Tomorrow morning we will begin the most solemn week of the Christian Year. It is the week wherein we see our Lord voluntarily submit himself to spitting, scourging, slapping, mocking and crucifixion. It is a week that should cause us to give pause in all of our lives. But I think that we don't usually get the Passion anymore. I think it seems too abstract to most of us.
I recall one person telling me, and being entirely earnest, that his mother suffered worse than our Lord did. He only suffered for several hours, while she died slowly of cancer for a long time. She did suffer and I would not make light of that at all. But is the Passion of Christ's just a grisly scene of physical torture? That is the opinion of many it seems. And that is what has often been thought to be the great defect of Mel Gibson's movie about the Passion. I for one, think that for a while we had become a little too gnostic and had forgotten the reality of Christ's physical suffering, so I thought the movie was a positive thing.
But the suffering of Christ was far more profound and painful that we can possibly imagine. And I'm not speaking about a psychological suffering—although that was certainly part of his suffering too. The spiritual aspect of his passion is beyond my imagination. We don't think about that usually. So let's give that a little reflection as we come to the beginning of Holy Week.
Try to recall the hurt that you have felt in relationships that seem to go just a little awry. We don't understand why someone is angry with us, or why they don't like us (gosh, this seems to be the angst of every teenager that I've ever known—including myself). Yet these pains don't end in our youth do they? We have pains and resentments and injuries that are largely caused by the fact that we are not all Saints and we don't live in a world of Saints. We break each other's love and friendship, and the only thing that can grow when we do this is emptiness and pain, resentment and hate. All of these things are sins. I don't know about you, but sometimes I can recall the memory of pains from my past and it still hurts even now. I'm sure we all do this.
When our Lord suffered, he experienced every single sin in his own soul. He felt the universal alienation of humanity from God and from each other. I can't bear the thought of my own pain, and when I look into the eyes of those who have suffered far more than I have I, then I can't possibly fathom the depths of suffering. But even more dumbfounding is that Christ experienced and suffered the heartbreak of every mother, father, child, brother, and sister. He experienced within himself the untold suffering from sin of millions of people in his Passion.
Our Lord is absolutely perfect God and perfect man, and he did not have to suffer at all. There was no death, no sin, no separation in himself from God (himself). Yet he voluntarily took all of our death into himself, and allowed himself to die in love for us.
Let us recognize that we can in no way understand or plumb the depth of our Lord's Passion anymore than we can understand the mystery of his Resurrection. All we can do is try to enter into them both in our experience of his love for us. And that we begin tomorrow on Palm Sunday.