Letting Go
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim, Sj (The Freeman) - March 25, 2018 - 12:00am

My dear brothers and sisters, today’s liturgy begins the Holy Week. It is important not only for the way we celebrate liturgy, but also for the way we celebrate life.

But it comes with a problem, a solution, and a suggestion for its meaning in our everyday Christian living.

First: What is the problem? This liturgy begins the most significant eight days in the Church calendar. And how we see the liturgy today will pretty well determine how we act for the rest of the Holy week – perhaps for the rest of our lives.

What then are we doing in this particular liturgy? On the surface, we seem to be doing contradictory things. We call it Palm Sunday, and we also call it Passion Sunday.

In the entrance procession we honor a “triumphant King,” shout adoring “Hosannas,” wave palm branches, join the Jews of Jerusalem in their joy over Jesus.

In the Mass we suddenly stop all that. No Gloria. We thank the Father for this “model of humility.” We sing “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Isaiah tells of a Servant, who “did not cover [his] face from insult and spit.” St. Paul proclaims that Christ “emptied himself, to take up the status of a slave.” A pain-filled Gospel (Good News) that closes with Jesus lifeless in a tomb.

Indeed you have a number of conflicting elements here, a paradox – if not a contradiction:

Palm bending in adoration and reeds striking a thorn-crowned head, a King and a convict, Hosannas and mockery. Triumph and tragedy, and all these in one liturgy.

It doesn’t make sense, or does it? So much for the problem. Does it make sense?

Indeed it does, but only if we put aside a deep-seated misunderstanding about Lent. Most of us have been taught in the past to have a sharp dividing line between Lent and Easter. Lent meant that we live again in memory the dying of Jesus, so that on Easter we might re-live his rising.

Six weeks of suffering for him and sadness for us, then all of a sudden he and we are alive again. Forty days of barren desert, and then the flowers came out. Keep a sorrowful face; swallow your smiles and silence the laughter, because Christ was moving to his cross. We were looking forward to Easter dawn, when he would rise from the dead and we would rise with him Alleluia!

This practice appears like a yearly liturgical play-acting, a “palabas,” a dramatic presentation. Lent is no more a preparation for the rising of Jesus than Advent was a preparation for his birth.

Jesus will not rise next Sunday. No more than he was born in the crib last Christmas.

This is to stress the history at the expense of the mystery. There is indeed a history: Jesus did move from a desert – to a garden – to a cross – to a tomb from which he rose.

And in Lent we try to re-live that movement, but not as if Jesus is not yet risen, as if we must wait for Easter to re-live his resurrection. The point is – Passion Sunday, like all of Lent, gets its liturgical meaning from Easter.

And what is Easter? Easter is what we call the paschal mystery. And what is the paschal mystery? An inseparable twosome, a duality: the dying-rising of Jesus. The fact is he has already died and risen.

Today, Palm-Passion Sunday, this whole week, we enter with growing intensity into the whole paschal mystery. Not palms or passion; it is both.  Not triumph or tragedy; but triumph in tragedy. Not a dying or a rising Christ, but a dying-rising Christ. The paschal mystery is one mystery: life in and through death.

Passion Sunday, then, is not a prelude to the Resurrection. The tragedy of Calvary is not a promise of triumph at Easter. The cross is itself a triumph in Christ’s death, there is life.

That is why the Church puts palms and thorns together. The King is triumphant not simply on Easter. He is triumphant on Calvary. Dying-rising is one complex reality, the mystery of Christ. Today I rejoice, for in his dying the world comes alive.

But how does liturgy shape our Christian existence? Passion-Palm Sunday is an excellent example. Here we uncover the core of Christian living.

For to us, to live is to share in the dying-rising of Christ. Not in the two stages: dying here, rising hereafter. No, as with Jesus, so with us, our dying-rising is a double, inseparable reality.

In our dying is our rising – now. It began with our baptism. On this St. Paul is emphatic: “You know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:3-4)

Newness of life – now, not after death, but now.  At this moment the life of Christ flows through you like another bloodstream. That is why you can cry out with St. Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal.2: 19-20)

In Christ you are a new creation.

But your dying-rising is not simply a matter of Sacraments. You are indeed raised with Christ, but not fully risen. With St. Paul, “we who have the fruits of the spirit groan inside ourselves as we wait for... the redemption of our bodies.”  (Rom. 7:22-23)

And so we must constantly reproduce the journey of Jesus to rise to new life only by dying, continually dying. Dying to what? Basically, dying to sin and to self.

Dying to sin is never ended. For dying to sin is not merely turning from evil. Dying to sin is turning to Christ.

And turning to Christ is a constant conversion. If sin is rejection, dying to sin is openness – openness to God’s presence poured out on you through the warm breeze that caresses your skin, the beauty of nature that inspires your spirit, eyes that meet yours in friendship and love, the awesome presence of the Holy One in the tabernacle in the church, and in the shelter of your hearts.

It’s a wonderfully positive way of dying to sin. Turn to the Lord all around you. Turn to the Lord within you. More difficult perhaps is dying to self.

Here we are not talking about sin. We are talking about that very human problem: how do you let go of where you’ve been? How do you let go of yesterday, of the past that is so much part of you?

Not forget it but let go of it. Whether it’s turning 21, 40, or 65, whether it’s losing your health or your hair, your looks or your energy, your money or your memory, a person you love or a possession you prize; whether it’s being fired or a change of jobs; whether it’s as fleeting as applause or as lasting as grace – you have to move on.

Wherever you’ve been, you dare not dwell there. Essential to your Christian journey is the journey of Christ. And so, to let go of yesterday is to die a little.

But only by dying will you rise to new life. Only by letting go of yesterday will you open yourself to tomorrow, to being surprised by the Spirit.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, if you want to celebrate both liturgy and life in these coming eight days, here are three suggestions:

Don’t divorce passion and palms, Good Friday and Easter. They are inseparable.  In Christ’s death is life.

Act today, and all week like risen Christians. You have already risen with Christ. Then rejoice… today!

Let go of your security blanket. Let all your dying be a new living. not without pain, but let the pain be filled with Easter promise. There is no dying that does not bear within it the seeds of fresh life. So let go!



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