Next Sunday is Palm Sunday and it marks the beginning of the holiest week of the Church’s liturgical year. Over the five weeks of Lent we have tried to spend, at least some time, looking in at ourselves instead of the usual looking out at others. Lent shows us how easy it is to criticise, judge and to blame other people, and many of us are dab hands at it. The funny thing is, if you just spare a minute or two to have a look, you may find that you are blaming others for the very things that are so obviously wrong with yourself. And because you have been so busy looking around outside you; you may have become blind to what has been happening inside you.
During Lent we make a special effort to do without something we like, or we make do with something we don’t find particularly pleasant. The result, we hope, is an improvement of our interior life. That really is the meaning of penance. It’s a change in our attitude to people, and also to things.
Now, as Holy Week draws near, Christ becomes very much the central character on the stage. The greatest drama in human history begins to play itself out, reaching its climax at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the trial before Pontius Pilate, Our Lord’s death on the Cross on Good Friday, and the most marvellous thing of all, when death was finally defeated by Our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Those great events could only happen once, but we play them again, if you like; when we meet together for the Holy Week liturgies.
All our readings today have the theme of rising to new life. In St. John’s Gospel we hear the breath-taking story of Our Lord bringing back to life his old friend Lazarus who had been dead for four days. When Lazarus became ill, Jesus and the Apostles were some distance away in hiding from the Jewish leaders who were looking to arrest him. When Our Lord received the news about his friend he made no move for two days. The Apostles were surprised, because they were aware of the close friendship between Our Lord and Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. “Don’t worry”, Our Lord said, “This sickness will not end in death but in God’s glory and through it the Son of God will be glorified.” So they returned to the village of Bethany, which was practically a suburb of Jerusalem, and the incredible event of our gospel today took place.
Our Lord had still to be glorified and that could only happen when he himself suffered death. The Jewish leaders decided he must die and so they made plans for his capture and arrest.
From this moment on, all must have been very sad for the Apostles. Slowly they were remembering Our Lord’s words about going up to Jerusalem and being arrested, tried and condemned. St. Peter would recall how he had been put in his place for objecting to all this. With him, both James and John must have been recalling the amazing Transfiguration event of just a few weeks ago. And they must have wondered how the course of events could have changed so quickly. The days to come were to shatter their world and their lives. But they didn’t know what we know.
For us, as we live again the end, which was of course, really the beginning, there is the thought of the inevitability of our own death and, please God, our resurrection. I remind myself continually of that line in the Mass for the Dead which says that for God’s faithful people life is changed, not ended. What our lot will be in the Kingdom of Heaven will depend on the way we live our lives today.
As Christ prepares to suffer and to die, and then to rise from the dead, let us strengthen our faith so that we also will rise with him when our turn comes.