Week Called Holy

            When fishes flew and forests walked, and figs grew upon thorn,

            Some moment when the moon was blood, then surely, I was born.

            With monstrous head and sickening cry and ears like errant wings,

            The devil’s walking parody on all four-footed things.

            The tattered outlaw of the earth, of ancient crooked will;

            Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb, I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour; one far fierce hour and sweet:

There was a shout about my ears, and palms before my feet.

G. K. Chesterton’s poem, The Donkey, connects subhuman creation with an elevated mystical experience in which the creature became more than it seemed.  We, too, of course, are limited by our animal existence; but we have moments that elevate us to share something divine.

Holy Week contains that sort of drama.  It begins with Palm Sunday in which churches reenact Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem by waving palm branches and singing “hosanna.  Though Jewish eschatology anticipated an anointed warrior messiah from the line of David who would enter the holy city riding on a magnificent horse, backed by a powerful army, to liberate citizens from physical oppression imposed by tyrannical earthly rulers, Jesus rode in on a small donkey, symbol of peace, service, suffering, and humility.  Everything that He did was opposite of what was expected.  In rituals this week, including the anointing rites of the Chrism Mass, washing feet at the Mass of the Last Supper, and reverencing of the cross on Good Friday, we re-present the suffering servant Messiah, Jesus, who emptied Himself and took the form of a lowly creature to liberate us from spiritual enemies and conquer sin.

Nowhere is this more evident than John’s Gospel, in which Jesus is anointed in Bethany before His entrance into Jerusalem where, at a meal with His disciples, He got on His knees and washed their feet.  Whereas, in the other Gospels, Jesus offers what we call The Words of Institution (This is My Body…This is My Blood), this Gospel, instead, illustrates Jesus as a slave, a subhuman who calls them and us to similar service of humility.  Jesus then speaks about our violent and hate-filled world that can only be overcome by peace, friendship, and sacrificial love which will keep us connected beyond earthly death.  Our religion depicts the world’s violence through the crucifix that dangles from our rosaries and hangs in the center of our sanctuaries and in our homes.  It continuously calls us to elevate to a divine level, if even for a fleeting hour like the poem’s beast of burden, by going down on our knees before others.  Like some theologians I wonder if, every fourth Sunday (like in the fourth Gospel), instead of the Words of Institution, we would come to the altar and wash each other’s feet, it might transform our lives to be more like Christ’s and transform our communities.  The regular act of humbling ourselves as Jesus did could help us better carry out the mission and ministry that Jesus bequeathed to us.

Similar to Chesterton’s donkey or Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, a main character of Holy Week, there are times in life when we are subjected to misery, feel despised, or carry burdens of worthlessness that reduce us to a subhuman state; our animal existence is salient.  Yet much as the donkey elevated Our Lord, exalted His dignity, and inaugurated His passion; we, too, can elevate the poor human condition we suffer, exalt our dignity, and inaugurate a better world for all.  Like those who waved palm branches long ago while shouting “hosanna in the highest,” we can hail the sanctity of the least among us.  And, as we, like the donkey, consider the palms before our feet, we can exalt Christ in service to one another.

Blessings in the week we call holy.