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From the Chapel — April 5: How the story ends

Our Sunday Visitor chapel. Scott Richert photo


“From the Chapel” is a series of short, daily reflections on life and faith in a time of uncertainty. As people across the world cope with the effects of the coronavirus — including the social isolation necessary to combat its spread — these reflections remind us of the hope that lies at the heart of the Gospel.

With its mix of joy and sorrow, celebration of Christ’s kingship and anticipation of his death, Palm Sunday has always been a bittersweet start to Holy Week, but never more so than this year. The images of priests and bishops celebrating Mass in empty churches, reading St. Matthew’s Passion with only one person responding as the crowd, drove home the unusual nature of what we will experience over the coming week.

The responsorial psalm for today — Psalm 22 — foreshadows Christ’s passion, especially those final moments on the cross before he delivers up his spirit. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Eli, Eli lama sabachthani: Those are tough words to hear from the mouth of Our Lord, and words with which theologians have wrestled down through the centuries. As the Son of God, Christ knew, of course, that God the Father had not abandoned him, but the cry of his humanity rings true to us — again, especially this year. We can know that God is with us always and yet be unable to feel his presence, suffering, as Mother Teresa did, what St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul.”

In years past, we might have glossed over this cry from the depths of Christ’s soul, knowing, as we do, how the story ends. But this year gives us an opportunity to meditate on those words, to see in our situation — separated from our parishes and from the sacraments, especially the Eucharist — a pale reflection of what Christ suffered on our behalf.

Yes: a pale reflection. Because no matter how painful our situation may be, Christ himself suffered it — and more. On the cross, as he cried out those words, he experienced the true weight of all the sins of all mankind — past, present and future. He bore not only the physical pain of his body, but our spiritual pain today — not just mine, not just yours, but all of ours.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We know, as I said, that the story of Good Friday ends in the resurrection and ascension of Christ. And we know — though we may need to be reminded sometimes — that, as members of his body, our story also ends there.

This will not be an easy week. But we should view it as an opportunity. The liturgies of this week are the reenactment — the re-presentation — of the events of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. We can wallow in our own pain, our sense of loss and separation, or we can direct it into our celebration of Holy Week — and emerge on the other side with a better sense of what Christ himself suffered for our sake — and what he overcame in order to win the crown of glory for all who believe in his resurrection.

Scott P. Richert is publisher of OSV.

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