One of the reasons that I sought to answer the call for ordination all those many years ago came from an awareness that I learned from the South Side of Chicago. For in that neighborhood, the whole drama of human life was lived out. People shared their joys and their sorrows. There was an awareness of what the prayer book calls the “shortness and uncertainty of life,” driven home on countless occasions, such as the day a friend was stuck by the Illinois Central Commuter train. At that time there were many crossings that had only warning lights, but were without gates. The assumption was that he was racing his motorcycle to beat the train at the crossing; a closer examination revealed that the low hung branches of a tree would have obscured his vision, and with the loud pipes on the bike, he never would have heard the crossing bell. There were other, countless incidents that I could cite, but they all pointed to one thing: in the face of the tragic dimension of human life—a thing which we all face sooner or later—there is one thing that ultimately makes sense. That thing? The cross of Jesus, because it is a sign of God’s redeeming love that triumphs over the scope of tragedy in human life. The cross is God telling us, “I am greater than all this.” The cross of Jesus is the sign of God telling us, “I have compassion and love for you, for I too have born your grief and your sorrow.
So, one message of Holy Week is the unsavory reminder that to be alive is to walk in the way of the cross. Not a popular message these days. We’d rather focus on our own comfort and our own convenience. And, let’s face it, it is a lot easier to tell children about some pastel colored scene featuring Easter Bunnies that it is to try to explain a thing that most of them intuit anyway: that life as we experience it here is finite and that it is a gift. And, try as we might, how can we keep up our denial forever about tragedy in human life? That is where the cross of Jesus starts to make sense. Because either life is pointlessly absurd, or it is being redeemed.
In Camus’ Caligula, the Roman Emperor justifies his excess and his cruelty with a phrase, “men die and they are unhappy.” Implicit in Caligula’s flawed logic is that if death is all that awaits us, we may as well hurry up and be done with it. The cross of Jesus reminds us that there is an alternative. What is that alternative? It is to discover in Jesus Christ that the way of the cross is the way of life and peace, the promise of eternal life in the grace of God.
April 1st through 7th is Holy Week. I hope that you pray it in such a manner that you find the mystery of the passion. Jesus died for you so that you might live in Him.