Sunday, March 28, 2021

Tapping-Out Vs Diving-In


Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (B)

Readings: Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 21(22):8-9,17-20,23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 15:1-39

Pictures: cc James Brooks & FeBird Hou

My dear friends, are you familiar with the term tap-out. In certain martial arts contests, when one fighter is unable to break free from an opponent’s grip, he or she taps the opponent to concede defeat. Tapping-out is a sign of submission, of surrender, of withdrawal, of giving up the fight. Do you ever feel like doing that? Like you’ve simply had enough, and are ready to quit? What do you do? Where or how do you find the strength to soldier on?

These are some of the questions that come to mind at the start of Holy Week, as we watch Jesus take the painful road that leads from the palms of welcome to the passion of betrayal and rejection, of torture and death. There is a word that appears both in the prayer we said at the beginning of Mass, and in the blessing we will use at the end. A word that describes this road that Jesus walks. The word is submit. The road to the Cross is a journey of submission.

And yet it’s important that we understand what this means. Unlike a martial arts contest, the Lord’s submission is not a giving up, or a withdrawal. On the contrary, it is a total dedication of oneself. In the first reading, the suffering servant devotes every part of his body to the mission entrusted to him. I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard; I did not cover my face against insult and spittle. And the second reading beautifully describes how Christ empties himself, even to the point of accepting death, death on a cross. The submission of Christ is not a tapping-out but a diving-in. An ever deeper immersion into the messiness and pain of human reality.

And the readings also indicate to us how Jesus finds the strength to do this. The resources on which he draws. When it seems as though the prospect of the Cross is too terrible for him to bear, Jesus gathers his disciples for spiritual conversation and shared prayer. And when even these closest friends of his fail him, the Lord prays earnestly and honestly to his heavenly Father. Not just in the Garden of Gethsemane, but also on the Wood of the Cross. By taking pains to maintain connections, both with supportive friends, and ultimately with his faithful God, Jesus is able to tap into the energy he needs to sustain his submission to suffering.

As a result, the Lord himself becomes a resource for all who may be tired or burnt out from fighting the good fight. Jesus is that loving, consoling, re-energising Word, spoken by God to all who are wearied. Allowing us to share the experience of the centurion at the foot of the Cross. Able to somehow recognise the encouraging presence and action of God, even in the most depressing of situations.

Especially when we are tired and tempted to tap-out, it’s important to remember that the Lord’s journey to the Cross is for us a reliable wellspring of sustainable energy. Sisters and brothers, what must we do to better tap into this spiritual resource, so as to engage ever more deeply and lovingly in our beautiful but chaotic world today?

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Pictures of Power

5th Sunday of Lent (B)
My dear friends, I expect that many, if not all, of us have seen the striking image that went viral some days ago. The one where a Catholic nun kneels before a group of armed riot police, and begs them not to fire on the protesters behind her. Reports say Sr Ann Rose even asked the police to kill her instead. If you have seen the image, did you notice how it was able to tug at the heartstrings in such powerful ways? Indeed, Sr Ann Rose said that she did what she did because she herself was moved by the sight of the suffering people.

The power of images to move human hearts. This is also what we find in our readings today. In the gospel, when Jesus hears that some Greeks want to see him, he responds neither by agreeing nor disagreeing. Instead he starts to talk about how his hour has come, when he will be glorified. Although he doesn’t say it explicitly, we the readers are expected to know that Jesus is talking about his coming crucifixion. That is the image he paints for us. And, like that kneeling nun, the image of the crucified Lord holds tremendous power.

Power to do what? First of all, the readings tell us that it has the power of reconciliation. The power to mend broken bonds, and to establish new ones. Isn’t this what Jesus means when he says a grain of wheat that falls and dies bears much fruit? Or when he promises that, once he's lifted up, he will draw all to himself? How does this happen, if not through the power of an image to move the heart? Isn’t this how God fulfils the promise made in the first reading? To write a new covenant on the hearts of the people.

Second, the image of the crucified Christ also has the power of rejuvenation. As the second reading tells us, through his suffering, Jesus became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation. To all who are open enough to receive it, the crucifixion brings new life, fresh sustainable energy. And it does this by answering the plea we made in the psalm. By purifying our hearts. Freeing them from all that corrupts them.

Third, in addition to reconciliation and rejuvenation, the image of the crucified Christ also bestows the power of recognition. For although Jesus died once for all, more than two thousand years ago, there remain many in our world today who continue to be crucified, or oppressed, in some way. Not just by unjust political forces. But also by cruel social prejudices. Or harsh economic pressures. Or even unrealistic familial and societal expectations. Such as the ones that so many of our children have to struggle to meet everyday.

Reconciliation, rejuvenation and recognition. These are among the powerful effects that the crucified Christ can have on us. Effects that we are better able to experience, the more intently we ponder his image. The more conscientiously we recall and celebrate his story. The more earnestly we commit ourselves to follow in his footsteps. Isn’t this what Lent is for?

Sisters and brothers, like Sr Ann Rose, the kneeling nun, what shall we do to allow the image of the crucified Christ in his suffering people to move us ever more powerfully today?