Now that the Holy Week has started, precisely on Palm Sunday, it is important to see how the liturgy, especially the office of readings, helps us appreciate all the more the powerful mystery we are celebrating this week. Suffice to look at the patristic contribution of the first half of this great week of our salvation, that is from Palm Sunday to Holy Wednesday, to value what Christ did for us and for our salvation.
The patristic text from Saint Andew of Crete on Palm Sunday demonstrates how Christ saved us out of his free will. In his sermon, the bishop Saint Andrew of Crete, comments: “Let us go together to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives. Today he returns from Bethany and proceeds of his own free will toward his holy and blessed passion, to consummate the mystery of our salvation. He who came down from heaven to raise us from the depths of sin, to raise us with himself, we are told in Scripture, above every sovereignty, authority and power, and every other name that can be named, now comes of his own free will to make his journey to Jerusalem. He comes without pomp or ostentation. As the psalmist says: He will not dispute or raise his voice to make it heard in the streets. He will be meek and humble, and he will make his entry in simplicity” (taken from Oratio 9 in ramos palmarum: PG 97, 990-994).
The patristic text taken from Saint Augustine, on Holy Monday, reminds us that Christ’s passion is both “the hope of glory and a lesson in patience”. Thus writes the bishop of Hippo: “The passion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the hope of glory and a lesson in patience… In other words, he performed the most wonderful exchange with us. Through us, he died; through him, we shall live… The death of the Lord our God should not be a cause of shame for us; rather, it should be our greatest hope, our greatest glory. In taking upon himself the death that he found in us, he has most faithfully promised to give us life in him, such as we cannot have of ourselves. He loved us so much that, sinless himself, he suffered for us sinners the punishment we deserved for our sins. How then can he fail to give us the reward we deserve for our righteousness, for he is the source of righteousness? How can he, whose promises are true, fail to reward the saints when he bore the punishment of sinners, though without sin himself?” (Taken from Sermo Guelferbytanus 3: PLS 2, 545-546).
On Holy Tuesday Saint Basil the Great reminds us that it is by one death and resurrection that the whole world is now saved. “When mankind was estranged from him by disobedience, God our Savior made a plan for raising us from our fall and restoring us to friendship with himself. According to this plan Christ came in the flesh, he showed us the gospel way of life, he suffered, died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead. He did this so that we could be saved by imitation of him and recover our original status as sons of God by adoption” (Taken from the Holy Spirit, Cap. 15:35: PG 32 127-130).
Finally, on Holy Wednesday, Saint Augustine explains to us what is the perfection of love. He writes in his Tractate on the Gospel of John: “He had the power of laying down his life; we by contrast cannot choose the length of our lives, and we die even if it is against our will. He, by dying, destroyed death in himself; we are freed from death only in his death. His body did not see corruption; our body will see corruption and only then be clothed through him in incorruption at the end of the world. He needed no help from us in saving us; without him we can do nothing. He gave himself to us as the vine to the branches; apart from him we cannot have life”.
But what are the living consequences of these four days of the Holy Week? Let us let the Fathers themselves speak!
First, for Saint Andrew of Crete: “Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate those who met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish. Then we shall be able to receive the Word at his coming, and God, whom no limits can contain, will be within us”. Second, according to Saint Augustine: “Brethren, let us then fearlessly acknowledge, and even openly proclaim, that Christ was crucified for us; let us confess it, not in fear but in joy, not in shame but in glory”.
Third, for Saint Basil the Great: “To attain holiness, then, we must not only pattern our lives on Christ’s by being gentle, humble and patient, we must also imitate him in his death… We imitate Christ’s death by being buried with him in baptism. If we ask what this kind of burial means and what benefit we may hope to derive from it, it means first of all making a complete break with our former way of life, and our Lord himself said that this cannot be done unless a man is born again”. Fourth, Saint Augustine comes in again: “ Dear brethren, the Lord has marked out for us the fullness of love that we ought to have for each other. He tells us: No one has greater love than the man who lays down his life for his friends. In these words, the Lord tells us what the perfect love we should have for one another involves. John, the evangelist who recorded them, draws the conclusion in one of his letters: As Christ laid down his life for us, so we too ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. We should indeed love one another as he loved us, he who laid down his life for us”.
Lord, in the first half of this Holy Week, give me the grace of breaking completely from my former way of life by being humble and try to live as you wish me to live. In other words, laying my life for my brothers and sisters. In this manner can I really proclaim you as my Lord who is crucified for me. Amen.