Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sunday, April 1 ~ Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

Luke 22:14 - 23:56 or 23:1-49

(This Sunday’s Gospel can be read at the above links. I am not publishing it here, because it is incredibly long.)

Personal Meditation for Reflection and/or Discussion

I knew this would be the hardest reflection to write. So much has been said on the Passion of Christ. What more can I say? I felt this way many years ago at a retreat I was leading as a college student. We were called St. Mary’s Youth Retreat Team – SMYRT – and being a part of that group changed my life…many times. One fall weekend, two dear friends were leading a retreat for high school youth, and I was one of the staff members. As a team, we spent the weekend playing games, giving talks, discussing faith, and evangelizing the youth.

I was scheduled to give the closing talk, a challenge to the youth to take what they had heard that weekend into their daily lives and make it real. I think it was a Sunday, probably in the afternoon after Mass. We were all tired, as no one sleeps much on such retreats. We had practiced a drama to perform just before my talk set to the Ray Boltz song “Watch the Lamb.”

Basically, it is a Passion play. The main character speaking in the song is a father who takes his two children to Jerusalem to sacrifice their Passover lamb. They happen upon the Way of the Cross, and the father turns out to be Simon of Cyrene. The two small children are led by their father to a new meaning of “watch the lamb.”

I was one of the children in the drama. As the song played, the staff of the retreat acted out the words. Maybe it was the whip of the belt accidentally hitting the young man playing Jesus. Maybe it was the convincing air of the young man who played Simon, my “father.” Most likely it was the Holy Spirit, but during that song, I was drawn into the scene. I was there, on Calvary, and I was a child, watching this dear lamb, whom I had been taught all my life to love, slaughtered.

Here are the song lyrics for you to read and imagine…

Watch The Lamb
Words and music by Ray Boltz

Walking on the road to Jerusalem/The time had come to sacrifice again/My two small sons,/They walked beside me on the road/The reason that they came/Was to watch the lamb

Daddy, daddy what will we see there?/There's so much we don't understand/So I told them of Moses/And Father Abraham/And then I said,/Dear children, Watch the lamb

For there will be so many/In Jerusalem today/We must be sure the lamb/Doesn't run away/And I told them of Moses/And Father Abraham/And then I said,/Dear children, Watch the lamb

When we reached the city/I knew something must be wrong/There were no joyful worshippers/No joyful worship songs/I stood there with my children/In the midst of angry men/And then I heard the crowd cry out,/Crucify Him

We tried to leave the city/But we could not get away/Forced to play in this drama,/A part I did not wish to play/Why upon this day/Were men condemned to die?/Why were we standing here/Where soon they would pass by?

I looked and said, Even now they come/The first one cried for mercy,/The people gave him none/The second one was violent,/He was arrogant and loud/I still can hear his angry voice/Screaming at the crowd

Then someone said, There's Jesus!/And I scarce believed my eyes/A man so badly beaten,/He barely looked alive/Blood poured from His body,/From the thorns upon His brow/Running down the cross/And falling to the ground

I watched Him as He struggled/I watched Him as He fell/The cross came down upon His back,/The crowd began to yell/In that moment I felt such agony/In that moment I felt such loss/Until a Roman soldier grabbed my arm/And screamed, You, carry His cross!

At first I tried to resist him/Then his hand reached for his sword/And so I knelt and took/The cross from the Lord/I placed it on my shoulder/And started down the street/The blood that He'd been shedding/Was running down my cheek

They led us to Golgotha/They drove nails/Deep in His feet and hands/And yet upon the cross/I heard Him pray, Father forgive them/Oh, never have I seen such love/In any other eyes/Into thy hands I commit My spirit,/He prayed and then He died

I stood for what seemed like years/I'd lost all sense of time/Until I felt two tiny hands/Holding tight to mine/My children stood there weeping/I heard the oldest say/Father, please forgive us/The lamb ran away

Daddy, daddy what have we seen here?/There's so much/That we don't understand/So I took them in my arms/And we turned and faced the cross/And then I said,/Dear children, watch the Lamb

©1986 Shepherd Boy Music/ASCAP

When the song was finished, I cried. I cried a lot. I could not stop crying. I could not give my talk. I could barely speak. Every time I collected myself and thought of saying something, the tears burst forth again, because there was nothing I could say that was more important than what we had all just seen. There was no way I could communicate to those youth how to live their faith better than Jesus. And, my faith was too immature to even explain that to them.

So, I sat on a bench in the front of about 50 high school students, between two dear friends and sobbed, as they explained briefly that I felt I could not say anything that could come close to what we had all just witnessed. They played another song (I forget which one), and I sobbed through that. That was it. My talk, the closing of that retreat, was me sobbing. I will never forget it. And, when I read the lyrics today, it all comes back.

I have long since lost touch with those dear friends, but somewhere in my college memory box, I have a picture of the three of us on that bench. I keep it to remember, to remember that nothing I could ever say or accomplish could mean more than what Christ did on Calvary. That is the ultimate example of love. Not the Incarnation or the Resurrection (although those are essential) but the sacrifice of God’s Son for each of us.

As Catholics, we are blessed to attribute a great significance to the events of Holy Week. Like Advent comes before Christmas, Lent comes before Easter, but Holy Week is uniquely powerful. Reflecting on each aspect of the days preceding Easter is crucial to a full understanding of the Resurrection. Do not miss Holy Week. Find a way to mark it; make it different for your family than from any other week in the year! Decide how you will teach your children to "Watch the Lamb." This song certainly takes on new meaning for me now that I have children. I will be specifically praying that each one of you have a unique spiritual experience this week.

My urging to you this Holy Week is to find at least 15 minutes of silence to meditate on the Passion. Do it with the Stations or Scripture or the lyrics above. Close your eyes and imagine yourself there, the weather, the smells, the sounds, the sights. Look into Jesus’ bloodstained face and accept His gift to you: “For God so loved [you] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

If you want to hear the song, check out one of these very moving YouTube videos:
This one sets the song to remarkable original drawings to fit the lyrics.
This one is a compilation of scenes from The Ten Commandments and The Passion of the Christ (but read the lyrics or watch the other first, as these images do not exactly mirror the words).

But [he] emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. ~ Philippians 2:7-8