Reflections on Holy Week

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Sri Lankan Catholic women on Good Friday

Last summer, I drove a carload of grandchildren home from the swimming pool. Sleepy from sun and water and hours of splashing and jumping and calling out, “Watch me!” my noisy crew grew quiet. The sweet seasonal smells of chlorine and sunscreen filled the car. We turned down Nevada Avenue, under the canopy of the great, green trees lining the street.

Three-year old Leo, buckled in his car seat just behind me, said softly, “Ma-Maw, when it gets dark, the trees turn into woods.”

The boy knows his fairytales.

“Yes,” I told Leo, “yes, they do.”

I know my fairytales, too. And my scripture.

The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Leo’s words will be a kind of lectio divina for me this Holy Week. For, when it gets dark, the trees turn into woods.

In his gospel, Luke tells us how the disciples experienced Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

As Jesus rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power they had seen.

They were with a winner. Close to Jesus, their feet were protected from the dust and waste on the road by cloth, spread out before them, and, if not for them, then for the man whose friends and companions they were known to be.

They were walking under the arching oaks, protected from the sun, cooled by the shade.

In his gospel, Matthew describes the those who came out to greet Jesus, “The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.”

They were calling Jesus “the prophet, the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” And the disciples knew him best, knew what he liked to eat for lunch, knew where he liked to stop and rest.

Trees, to sit by and eat or rest. They were striding through the trees, home as victors and heroes.

It must have seemed to them that Jesus himself brought the darkness. Charging into the temple area and driving out the merchants, turning over the tables of the moneychangers, upending the seats of those selling doves. Doves! —a peaceful bird, a necessary bird for the temple rituals.

What would it hurt him to show respect before the authority of the chief priests and scribes? Why did he have to preach in the temple? Bring up the disputed question of resurrection? (There was a holiday coming, a festive meal. Did Mary and Joseph teach him nothing about avoiding religion and politics at he holiday table?)

Why did he enrage the people who welcomed him by foretelling the destruction of the temple. Bad enough that they lived under foreign rule, why would one of their own say,

Amen, I say to you, there will not be left here a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.

The crowds have thrown down their cloaks and their welcoming branches. Why would he throw down their temple?

The week is not over before darkness falls. The trees become woods. Or, as my translation of Matthew’s gospel says, in a most fairy tale-like construction, it is “The Beginning of Calamities.”

Jesus tells his followers what is waiting for them,

Then they will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name.

They have tasted adulation. They will drink deep of the cup of hate.

Even the universe will know the dreadful night. Jesus tells the disciples,” The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

The quest will be, as it always is in the moonless night, in the dark woods. The quest will be for light, for a light shining in the dark, piercing the gloom, leading the way to shelter and warmth.

The disciples will have to decide. They will see many lights burning in the days to come. Judas will see his own vision of their mission reflected in the light of silver coins. Peter will crowd up against a courtyard campfire and hope for a light so strong it will blind all who look upon him. That they will see a stranger, a passerby, not a friend of Jesus the Galilean.

It would be so simple if there were only one fire burning, one light shining, one way out of the woods. But they will have to choose.

There will be fire that withers the fig tree and fire whose warmth brings it to blossom.

They will have to choose, and so will we.

– Melissa Musick