Another Pussy-willow Sunday. Our Lenten reflections recognized the Divine Liturgy as a renewal of our relationship with God, each other, humanity, creation. We are connected as one body through the Eucharist; we are family. Throughout Lent this year, we, together with most of the Western world, recoil in horror at russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In our interconnection, each prayer and thought filter through the unfathomable pain of our sisters and brothers in our homeland. We enter into Passion week hearing the cries of children, mothers, friends and families—plunged into hell for no reason but that they live in a country of peace. T. S. Eliot writes:
‘And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.’
Annually, our Lenten exploration into our souls can bring us to the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection as if “for the first time”. Undoubtedly, the violence we know this year vibrates with the senseless killing of innocence seen in the crucifixion. There is so much similarity between current events and the events we remember each Paschal cycle. Sometimes it seems that Christ’s humanness is lost when we celebrate His divinity at Easter. We forget that He was a man who did not want to die and prayed that “this cup be taken from him”. We forget that God did not force Him to be crucified. Jesus, the man, did not want to die, but He would not compromise what He stood for in order to save himself from the untrue accusations of His enemies.
Hence, it can be misleading to say that “Jesus died for our sins,” as if He had planned the event. Jesus died because of our sins. Jesus’s life demonstrates how a human being can live an ordinary human life choosing love always. Through Christ we see that living love begets life—all the good things we call “life” such as inclusion, kindness, compassion. These qualities lead to equity, and ultimately happiness, because people would help each other to mitigate the inevitable pain and problems that come with being alive. We would recognize and act on our interconnection the way Jesus did.
As much as love begets life, hate begets death. Throughout life, of course, we humans struggle in a vast spectrum between the two: Love=God; hate=sin.
We desperately want to simplify life by reducing the constant struggle into categories of good/bad, right/wrong, white/black. (For example, I might see what is easy and desirable for me as right, ignoring any negative effects on you). And so we live in a perpetual muddle of uncertainty over claims of power, rules, laws, whether political or religious.
So why did Jesus, who kept His focus only on goodness, “have” to die? Love does not mean that you “let” others kill you. No.
Christ’s way of living threatened those who profited from human oppression and fear. In fact, Christ stood with the oppressed. In the words of Pope Francis:
“If we really want to love God, we must be passionate about humanity, about all humanity, especially those who live the condition in which the Heart of Jesus was manifested, that is, pain, abandonment and rejection; especially in this throwaway culture that we live in today. When we serve those who suffer we console and rejoice in the Heart of Christ.”
We want to believe that the “victory of the cross” is a vanquishing of suffering. If we are good Christians all will be well, right? We want to believe this, despite the teachings of the gospels. But this Sunday, as we take our branches home, we cannot ignore the present anguish of Ukraine and we recognize anew the cross and resurrection.
In the time of Christ, the cross was used as a criminal penalty by the dominant power—Rome. It was an instrument of humiliation and degradation as well as death. Remember, Christ embraced humanity, his own and all people’s. A crucifixion is designed, as it were, to dehumanize the victim.
The victory of the cross is that despite all the abuse and indignity, Christ did not stop loving. He did not stop caring. He maintained His human dignity and refused to become like His tormentors.
“To make the same point differently, people like Jesus and Paul were not executed for saying,
‘Love one another.’ They were killed because their understanding of love meant more than being compassionate toward individuals, although it did include that. It also meant standing against the domination systems that ruled their world, and collaborating with the Spirit in the creation of a new way of life that stood in contrast to the normalcy of the wisdom of the world. Love and justice go together. Justice without love can be brutal, and love without justice can be banal.“
(M. J. Borg and J. D. Crossan)
Currently, the world sees Ukraine, defending human dignity, standing for justice and peace. Again the power of oppression and greed is threatened. Hate strives to destroy love.
But this is why we celebrate the victory of the cross. Love is greater than hate. Love is stronger than death. Christ is with us. He is and always will be. Ukraine will rise again!