In Baptism, we are incorporated into the Paschal Mystery. That is, we are incorporated into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His life is our life. His death is our death. His resurrection is our resurrection. It is for this reason that Christians observe Holy Week every year. It is a commemoration intended to put us in touch with that life which the world can neither give nor take away. It is a time to look at the Paschal Mystery and to recover our true identity, our authentic self, in him.
Five hundred years before Jesus rode into Jerusalem, Zechariah prophesied that the Messiah would be a king. Since the time of the Exile, no Jewish ruler had borne the title of king. “Look, your king is coming to you. Rejoice, rejoice, people of Zion” (Zech. 9:9). The time was just right and the people were happy on that first Palm Sunday to acknowledge it.
They wished to crown him their king. In their enthusiasm, they missed the paradox. They saw the glory but overlooked the shadow. But Jesus was conscious of both.
He knew who he was, so the acclamations of the crowd did not impress him. He saw that their palm branches cast the shadow of a cross. He sensed that the kingly crown they were offering to him that day would become a crown of thorns by the end of the week. Jesus knew that the identity the world offered was not a secure identity, not a legitimate identity, and certainly not a dependable identity. No, for Jesus, the only true identity is consciousness of who we are in the eyes of our Creator.
To the disciples, on the next weekend, it must have looked like the world’s biggest failure, a cruel joke. Imagine being sucked in to a group like “the Twelve.” To them “the Way” must have appeared more like a primrose path. Because they were still so dependent upon the things of the world for their sense of identity, they had to be the most embarrassed people around Jerusalem.
Then came Easter. Out of the tomb came the Risen Messiah with his identity still intact. “He is risen!” is shorthand for Jesus’ message of resurrection:
Behold, I have overcome the world. Behold, I died and I am alive. Behold, who you are need never again depend upon who you know, what you wear, where you live, what you do, how much you possess, or even what people say about you. Because I live, you will live also. You will experience new life in me and you will be able to face the popularity contest the world is running with confidence that you don’t really have to enter it in order to find out who you are. Here is my crown. It is yours! Take it! And believe me when I tell you that this crown of glory, which is both mine and yours, will never fade away.
Who and whose we truly are – that’s what Holy Week and Easter are all about. This Holy Week will be quite different for Christians around the world because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. We will miss our gatherings, palm waving, foot washing, darkness and light, and all of the other tokens of his passion, death, and resurrection. Instead, we will gather virtually in front of our computer and television screens. This extraordinary time will teach us new things and, perhaps, help us see ourselves in a new light. When we emerge on the other side of this pandemic, we will never be the same. But we will still have our identity intact as children of God and heirs of God's amazing grace through faith in Jesus Christ - the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Guard your health, stay out of harm's way, and remember who and whose you are.
The Very Rev'd Ron Pogue
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church