I am often approached by people who comment on the sparse decorations of our churches during Lent. Some commenting favorably and some not. Some people are passionate in their opinions and some are more casual in their expression. Whatever our preference of design may be, I think some of the most evocative symbols of Holy Week are the most simple.
Consider that we begin our Holy Week observance on this Palm Sunday with branches of palm – rich and green, soft and pliant, yet hearty and strong. For me and perhaps for you, they are long – awaited reminders that the long winter is over and spring is upon us. But, as you know, these palms won’t be green and soft for very long. In a short time, these very same palms will be faded, dry and brittle.
I sometimes wonder if the branches we hold are much like our faith – not what our faith should be, but what our faith often is. Some days and in some celebrations our faith is as rich and as green as the palms are today, but when our relationship with Jesus begins to pull at our consciences or make demands where we would prefer to cut corners, do we find our faith brittle and easily tucked away, like these palms?
The bread and wine we will use this week will remind us of Jesus’ offering of Himself so that we might have life and have it to the fullest.
We will take Him into our hands, we will say “Amen” to this offering. But, will we quickly allow ourselves to become entrapped in a life of servitude to lesser desires?
The basin and towel that Jesus used to wash the feet of His disciples recalls the humility that Jesus models for those who would be His followers. How often have we been humbled by the inestimable generosity of God when we review our lives and the lives of those we love. But then, when asked to reach out to another in need do we withhold our own time, talent or treasure?
Two pieces of wood fashioned into a cross testify to the loving sacrifice of Jesus emptying Himself for our sake. Yes, we too understand the cross. We have certainly carried our crosses.
At other times, when we have been asked like Simon of Cyrene to help our sisters and brothers carry their crosses have we instead unconsciously fingered the bejeweled crosses around our necks and found excuses to look another way?
A fire will announce His resurrection on Easter Eve; His word and example illuminating our lives with meaning, purpose, dignity. But, do we later withdraw our faith expression into the shadows of complacency, irrelevance and conformity?
Water will invite us to recall when we too were cleansed of sin, made God’s adopted daughters and sons, molded into His Church; the very waters of baptisms assigning us a place in the story of salvation history.
However, do we only claim this identity as long as it affirms our self -determination and forfeit it as soon as it makes demands?
I ask you to please look beyond the ‘decorations’ of our church and your preferences of design. Instead, through the simplicity of palm, bread, wine, towel, wood, flame and water, I invite you to encounter anew in this week we call “holy”, the mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection and it’s meaning in your life.