Redeeming the body of Christ
The emotional rollercoaster we travel along during Holy Week to the glory of the Resurrection at Easter can leave us feeling raw. The Scriptures force us to encounter Christ who carries both the fullness of our humanity and suffering and the majesty of his divine kingship.
On Palm Sunday we witness the triumph of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem on a donkey. But minutes later, we are put through the horror of Christ’s passion.
It begins as we are seated in the calm of the Upper Room as Jesus and his disciples are sitting down to their Passover meal, as a band of brothers united by a common mission to preach God’s word.
But then Jesus disrupts this peaceful retreat from the busyness of Jerusalem outside. He confuses the disciples by taking on the task of a servant, washing their feet and then delivers his final lesson to them: serve one another.
A trace of fear overshadows this a short while later as Jesus announces that he will not eat or drink again until he enters His Father’s kingdom, and in the next breath proclaims that one member of this band of brothers will betray him and another will abandon him.
Our anxiety reaches a new height when we see our Saviour sweating drops of blood as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, struggling to submit his human will to God’s plan for salvation. We feel his loneliness as his closest friends falls asleep when he needs their strength the most.
At his arrest a few minutes later we feel a little like Peter, wishing one moment to defend his friend but denying his association with him the next.
Good Friday comes almost too soon. The morning dawns to the cracks of soldiers’ whips, the injustice of a rushed trial, a faint-hearted appeal by Pilate and the rabid cries of the crowd baying for Jesus’ blood. With a lacerated heart, we help Simon of Cyrene carry the Cross, knowing that it will not change the final outcome.
The three crosses on the hillside of shame beneath a merciless sun are almost too much to bear. As Jesus gasps his last breath, the hope that this might have been the promised Messiah is shredded, torn in half like the stone wall of the temple. We are numb with shock, unable to believe that a week ago none of this seemed possible.
Jesus’ body is laid in the tomb and we go into hiding, uncertain of what to do next.
In stealthy silence, we join the women in their post-Sabbath pre-dawn walk to the tomb to embalm the body.
Then when things couldn’t get any worse, we find that the tomb is empty and we are certain that someone with evil intent has stolen the body of Jesus.
We are so incensed with a new anger that we fail to see that the man standing before us radiates a supernatural light.
Slowly, it dawns on us that we are standing on holy ground and that Jesus is alive. It cannot be possible. We hardly dare to believe that something so miraculous could have happened.
Yet we know, he truly has risen from the dead. Our joy is complete when we meet him face-to-face and join Thomas in touching his wounds. Our own wounds are healed and we take comfort that we can face the future because Jesus has saved us from our human sinfulness and shown us the way to heaven.
The emotions we experience in Holy Week affect us so deeply because they touch the core of our human frailty. The events of this sacred week place a strong emphasis on the body. The body of Christ is honoured on Palm Sunday, violated on Good Friday and glorified on Easter Sunday.
This liturgical pilgrimage invites us to become more aware of our physical needs and the needs of those around us.
Do we see the broken body of the elderly person lying in the hospice waiting for death, the hunger of the woman begging for scraps outside the restaurant, or the couple huddled and shivering under a bridge as they try to shelter themselves from the cold autumn chill? Do we hear the cries of the baby abandoned on a rubbish dump or see the thirst of those parched by the drought?
Every time we pass through the holy doors in our dioceses during this Year of Mercy, Christ is calling us to visit him in prison, to meet him at the tomb, to feed and clothe him. We hear Jesus’ words: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
Corpus Christi parish in Wynberg, Cape Town, took up the spirit of the Year of Mercy and practised the corporal and spiritual works of mercy earlier this month when they visited various homes in the area dedicated to the care of the sick, homeless, children, and prisoners.
The parishioners handed out food supplies and clothing to those in need, and spent time with those who are too often forgotten. They walked the modern-day Way of the Cross, redeeming the body of the suffering Christ by momentarily soothing the pain of our suffering brothers and sisters.
I think Corpus Christi has set the challenge to the Church in the rest of South Africa. What can your parish do to meaningfully practise these works of mercy?