Cyril of Jerusalem has a wonderful sermon on water that he preached to catechumens centuries ago. Here are a couple of lines:
“Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.”
The saint goes on to say that just as water adapts itself to every creature, the Holy Spirit gives life to each one according to its needs and to benefit the common good. The Spirit’s coming is gentle, not felt as a burden, with tenderness, as a true friend, to save, heal, counsel, strengthen and console.
So back to spring rains. Will they come this year? Climate change? Is it at work with the spring? The magnolia tree outside my room hopes the rains will come, and the other trees and plants in our garden hope they will too. They’re waiting for the rain to fall on the earth to do what it always does. Like the Spirit of God, water brings life.
Today’s Tenebrae readings speak of Jesus’ burial in the earth; the seed falls to the ground. Jesus will brings life:
“My heart rejoices, my soul is glad,
Even my body shall rest in safety,
For you will not leave my soul among the dead
Or let your beloved know decay.” Psalm 16
His promise extends not only to humanity, but to creation itself. “Cry out with joy to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness.”“
Tenebrae for Holy Saturday ends with an ancient homily:
“Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.”
“The earth trembled and is still…”
The Passion of Jesus is not only a human story; creation takes part in it too. At his death “the earth quaked, rocks were split” Matthew’s gospel says. (Matthew 27,51) “From noon onwards darkness came over the whole land till three in the afternoon,” Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us.
The sun that rules the day, the moon that rules the night respond as Jesus cries out in a loud voice and gives up his spirit. Artists through the centuries place sun and moon at the cross of Jesus.
Remember too those great elemental realities blood and water, which John’s gospel says flowed from the side of Christ when a soldier pierced his side. Water refreshed with its contact with the Word of God; blood source of life for living creatures come from the side of Jesus. They also share in the mystery of redemption.
The homily for today says that Jesus at his death goes “to search for our first parent…to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve…I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.”
Artists from the eastern Christian traditon see the Passion of Jesus leading to a great redemption. Jesus does not rise alone, but humanity and creation itself will follow him.
We usually begin the story of the Passion of Jesus with his agony in the garden and end it with his crucifixion, but it’s seen differently in our liturgy. The Passion of Jesus begins on Palm Sunday– also called Passion Sunday– and continues through all the days of Holy Week. The entire week tells the story of his Passion.
When Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday he comes to the city he loves; he’s never afraid here, it’s a Holy City to him. From childhood its temple was “ his Father’s house,” where he sat with learned teachers, “listening to them and asking them questions.”(Luke 2, 41-52) Now, those teachers are deciding to put him to death.
In these early days of Holy Week, Jesus stays in Bethany, an enclave of Jerusalem, where he usually stayed, the scriptures indicate. Bethany was where the Galileans encamped when they came for the feasts. He would be surrounded by friends here. Here he raised Lazarus from the dead; they honored him at a meal here. It was hard for the temple police to reach him here.
“One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot,
went to the chief priests and said,
“What are you willing to give me
if I hand him over to you?”
They paid him thirty pieces of silver,
and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.” (Matthew 26, 14-15)
Betrayal fell like a dark cloud upon Bethany. He’s no longer safe. His own friends would abandon him, a disciple would betray him.
No need to speculate on what Jesus was thinking; our scripture readings tell us. Like the Prophet Isaiah he has second thoughts: “Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength.”
Wouldn’t Jesus have thoughts of futility, loss of trust, disappointment? Still, like Isaiah he says:
“Yet my reward is with the LORD,
my recompense is with my God.” (Isaiah 49, 1-6)
“I have become an outcast to my brothers,
a stranger to my mother’s sons,
because zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.” (Psalm 69)
But he doesn’t turn back; he doesn’t turn away.
“The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.”
In these early days of Holy Week Jesus faces death in many forms. He faces rejection and betrayal and the prospect of a cruel execution. Before the soldiers roughly treat him, before he’s scourged and mocked and crowned with thorns, before nails are pounded into hands and feet and he dies on the cross, he turns to his Father and sets his “face like flint.” He will go to the Upper Room, near the temple, and give himself to his disciples, in the signs of bread and wine. He will offer them his love. He will go into the garden and earnestly pray to do his Father’s will, because that is why he came.