Holy Week is the week of betrayals, our betrayals of Christ and our betrayals of one another. Betrayal lies at the heart of the Christian religion. The most intense expression of our betrayals of Christ is captured in the kiss of Judas; and the point of Holy Week is that we are all complicit in that kiss. In one way or another, we are all the betrayers of Christ.
But, the mercy of Holy Week does not lie in the relentless, heart-rending spectacle of our betrayals; it lies in the mercy of Christ who overcomes the betrayals of our hearts. It is only in the knowledge of that mercy that we can face let alone begin to contemplate our betrayals. The ceremonial kiss of peace in the Mass hints at the victory of the resurrection over the kiss of Judas, the betrayers’ kiss. But how easily and how frequently do we betray even the peace of Christ.
That is why we need Holy Week. We need to face the spectacle of ourselves as the betrayers of Christ. Holy Week does not allow us to cast accusing fingers at one another, only to point the finger at ourselves. The point of Holy Week is to place us in the passion of Christ for us, for we are not spectators but the very actors in the drama of our own salvation. The liturgy makes this point with such eloquence
We have all just participated together in the Passion according to St. Matthew. It was you and I who just cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord” and then you and I who turned around and said repeatedly and just as insistently, “Crucify him, Crucify him”.
Such is the paradox of Palm Sunday. The King enters triumphantly into his royal city where he will be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, where he will be spitefully entreated, where he will be spitted upon, where he will be mocked, where he will be beaten, where he will be crucified, where he will die. And we are the crowd, the soldiers, the chief priests, the women, the disciples, Pilate and Caiaphas, Herod and the centurion. We are all in this story. The whole of our humanity is on display and we are all involved and implicated in the heart of the matter which is, in fact, our betrayal of Christ. That we, “Like lost sheep have all gone astray” is the unambiguous claim of scripture. And, just like the disciples at the table of fellowship in the Upper Room on the night in which he was betrayed, it belongs no less to us to say, “Is it I, Lord, Is it I?” and then to realize that yes, yes, it is you and I who have betrayed the truth and the goodness of God; it is you and I who have betrayed one another. Sin is about our betrayal of the truth and the goodness of God without which there is no truth or goodness in us. This is part and parcel of the good news of Holy Week, the good news that is at the heart of the Gospel of Christ.
In the betrayal of Christ and in his crucifixion our betrayals are also made clear to us through our participation in the Passion of Christ. But the true point is to move us to penitence and to compassion, to love and to service.
Some may wonder, ‘how have I betrayed Christ? I have simply gone about my life trying to be good and nice. I wouldn’t have said and done what others did at the time of Christ’s crucifixion’. But, we are all complicit in the crucifixion of Christ in “our thoughts, words and deeds” and, perhaps, worst of all in our indifference to the things of God and to the sufferings of others. None of us have done all that we should and all of us have thought, said and done (which were certainly not hidden from God) and which we knew or should have known we should not have done. And nowhere is the betrayal of Christ more evident among Christians than in our neglect of the worship of God. Though there are many explanations, there is, I am sorry to say, no excuse; what is always needed is a deeper commitment and a deeper conversion of our lives to Christ in his body the Church.
And yes, we can all see that the institutional church does not always present a very appealing picture, compelling our loyalty, our love or even our respect. Historically, made up of such as we, the church is too often in betrayal of her own principles and in betrayal of her own people. But the spectacle of all our betrayals is not to make us complacent and indifferent or judgmental and accusatory of others but rather to call us to account individually and corporately.
The failure on the part of all of us, priest and people alike, that is the failure of the Church to be the Church, to be the place where we confront our betrayals in the all-forgiving love of Christ crucified. Too often our own agendas get in the way of the will of God revealed in the sacrifice of Christ for us. A church, when she is simply agenda driven becomes the church that betrays Christ whose “kingdom is not of this world”, however much it must be made manifest through this world.
Nowhere do we see that more poignantly and more provocatively than in Holy Week when we immerse ourselves in the Passion of Christ as presented and proclaimed in all four gospels; nowhere are we challenged more completely. And yet, it remains one of the glories of our spiritual tradition, our liturgical immersion in the Passion of Christ. And even so, more will be here at Easter than Good Friday. Such, also, is the nature of our betrayals.
Still, the Word is proclaimed and you and I are convicted, yet again, of “the blood of Christ” through our betrayals of his love. And yet again, that blood is outpoured for us to drink to our heart’s delight because of the events of this week, because of the Passion whose fruit is the Resurrection, and the promise of our own!
“His blood be on us and on our children” and so it is, but in the mercies of Christ that same condemnation which we bring upon ourselves is turned to joy, a joy tinged, to be sure, with the sorrows of this week, a joy ground ragged by the heart-rending knowledge of our betrayals. But such is the truth of our redemption. We can ignore it or we can will it by being present where it is proclaimed. That is our challenge, the challenge which in the paradox of Holy Week we bring upon ourselves. Immerse yourself in Holy Week, immerse yourself in the whole glorious drama of your redemption by the Lord who came especially so that:
“His blood (would) be on us, and on our children”