The story of Holy Week recounts the historical events surrounding Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection; but it also pinpoints common failures of humanity while providing the antidote that ultimately saves us. A suffering world needs to dive into the causes of darkness that surround it and investigate deep within itself to ask how we ought to move forward toward the light of the empty tomb.
Surveying the past year in our Church, nation, and world allows for easy access into the powers of evil still at play beyond the Passion narrative. COVID-19 was lethal and killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and over two million people worldwide. Humanity, as a whole, was ushered into a true fear of death for oneself and one’s loved ones. There has been no other time in world history where almost all of earth’s inhabitants were contemplating the nature of death at the same time with such proximity and possibility.
The realm of the internet, social media, and instant access to information allowed for the entire world to experience something frightfully similar at the same time. That real fear of death, however, is truly with us all the time. COVID-19 simply forced us to think about its power soberly and seriously. Countless people across the globe rarely look at death’s sting unless they are paying their respects at a wake or funeral. Even then, we often busy ourselves with small talk, say a prayer, and then return to our everyday habits.
Good Friday’s nature encourages us to recall the brutality of death and the fact that death is not supposed to be: it is the result of our sin (Genesis 2:17). We too often fall short and miss the mark; we choose ourselves over God and others; we act from selfishness, greed, and lack of trust in God’s goodness. The newest stage of sin does all of this while pushing the envelope—we no longer think that sin is real, so death becomes hopeless. Good Friday personifies the reality of hope despite real darkness and despair.
Human beings can be awful. We sometimes choose to kill God and be a part of the crowd, or betray him like Judas, or deny him like Peter. Today, we are invited to admit when we are like these characters and move toward suffering with Jesus like Simon of Cyrene, John the Apostle, and the Blessed Mother. To not run away, but run toward the cross.
Often, in the Church, we find that leaders and lay people alike are imperfect. From sexual scandals and financial neglect by bishops and a lack of concern for attending Sunday worship by the laity, we are viewing a Church in decline. Not in the sense that Christ’s victory is invalidated, but in the sense that the majority of Catholics do not believe in the doctrines of the magisterium or practice their faith through attendance in Sunday worship. In the background of these crises stands the Cross, with the lifeless body of Jesus calling us back to sacrifice everything for God.
Often, in American politics, we find that leaders and citizens are harming the common good and negatively impacting the manner in which opposing sides work together. From the constant call to impeach Donald Trump amidst unprecedented challenges in the country to the consistent attacks on natural law and Church teaching by the new administration, we are viewing leadership and citizenry that only knows how to hate the other side. Almost all officials refuse to budge from their aisles in the slightest. In the backdrop of these failures lies the heavy body of Christ being held by his Mother, ushering us forth to see the other as a person before we disagree with them.
Standing in the foreground of the entire gloomy nature of Good Friday is the remedy. The woman who anoints Jesus’ head with oil in Bethany is the overlooked answer (Mark 14:3-9). This scene takes place directly before Judas’ betrayal and serves as the opposite response to most of the flawed characters who surround the Lord’s death. Her example serves as the true vaccine for a world that too often looks at the masked other as a threat and views the opposing political operatives as sub-human.
We are told that she enters the house of Simon the leper while Jesus is dining with his Apostles, and she breaks (literal translation, “shatters”) a jar of precious oil that was most likely a family heirloom. The over-the-top gesture does not go unnoticed. Some noted that this was a waste; the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor. However, Jesus rebukes them: “She has anticipated anointing my body for burial.” She performed the action that anointed kings (1 Samuel 10:1) and installed priests (Leviticus 8:12) from the Old Testament while exemplifying where the focus needs to be on Good Friday. Namely, that we have a God who took our place and redeemed the world through His sacrifice.
Implicit in Christ’s words is the driving force of what Good Friday is all about: the most important gesture we can perform is worship of God as the One who spared nothing in dying for you and for me. Politics, social justice, and serving others is mandatory, but nothing can be initiated before we admit and cry out in thanksgiving that we have a God who deemed us worthy to be beaten, bloodied, bruised, and killed for our sake—that sin should have been our demise, but salvation has become our reward.
The only proper response is to break ourselves open like the woman at Bethany. We must shatter all that we are and hold back nothing in our response to Christ’s suffering. Then Good Friday will not just be a gloomy day of remembrance, but will serve as a catapult for souls to be pushed out into a world in crisis and shout the victory that God has won for us.
[Image Credit: “Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee” by Philippe de Champaigne (Public Domain)]