Moving through Holy Week takes stamina. Not only do the liturgies last long and well into the night, but the readings about Christ’s betrayal, trial, sentencing, journey up Calvary, and death on the cross are difficult to hear. Each takes an emotional toll if we dare to open up to each scene. There are accounts of torture, rejection, violence, and human cruelty. The injustice of the entire Passion is hard to take.
The gospel reading for Tuesday of Holy Week depicts Jesus reclining at table with his disciples. Jesus is portrayed as “deeply troubled” as he foretells the betrayal he will undergo at the hand of one of these trusted Twelve. The Greek translation of the word betray is “handed over.” The late Henri Nouwen wrote that the moment of this handing over is a turning point in Jesus’ ministry – one moving from “action to passion.” All has now passed out of Jesus’ hands and into the hands of others to do with him what they will. “It is important for me to realize,” Nouwen wrote, “that Jesus fulfils his mission not by what he does, but by what is done to him.” (The Road to Daybreak) Nouwen goes on to note how the greater part of his own life is passion rather than action. “And because most of my life is passion, things being done to me, only small parts of my life are determined by what I think, say, or do.”
I had to let this thought sink in for a while and then I recognized how Nouwen’s observation applied to my own life. Like so many others, I live with the illusion that I can and do control most of my life. As Jesus forewarned Peter, I, too, have had “…someone else take me where I’d would rather not go.” (John 21:18 paraphrased) Even the good things that have come into my life – the chance to publish my first book or meeting my husband, Ron – were not things I orchestrated. Someone or something else opened the doors I was able to walk through.
As Holy Week approaches, I pray to be more open than ever this year to the impassioned life. I want to walk through it with an awareness that the final handing over in this great story was Jesus’ willingness to give himself into God’s hands. How I hope and pray to do the same.
Find the readings and download activities for Lent and use them with your class or parish.