Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
– John Donne
The Mass for Palm Sunday of the Passion of Jesus begins by celebrating his triumphant procession into Jerusalem. “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Before long, though, the joy yields to sad confusion as the psalmist cries, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” This emotional about-face always catches me by surprise.
This past Sunday, my mind was wandering a bit during the lengthy reading of the Passion narrative when suddenly a single, sobering bell tolled. Then again. And again. It chased away my wandering thoughts, and allowed my mind to refocus on the unsavory details of Jesus’ betrayal, torment, and death.
* * *
We’d all just as soon forget about the unpleasantness of death. And there are plenty of legitimate good things that keep our eyes focused on living, loving, and thriving. But when a lone bell — or news of a tragic plane crash — pierces the air and the ear, it reminds us of mortality. Good Friday reminds us that there can be no new life at Easter without passing through the pains of death. We lose loved ones to death in grand, visible-to-the-world ways — funerals of grandparents, parents, siblings, friends. But we also carry unseen losses that ring in the corners of our hearts everyday: the death of relationships…of jobs…of hopes…of youthful optimism…of trust…of…of…
Holy Week takes us through the highs and lows of human relationships. An intimate supper among companions leads to betrayals, both glaring and subtle. The Passion narrative — a story of love — reminds us of the soft underbelly of our human condition, where we hear how Jesus’ friends — his friends, no less! — are caught bartering, backsliding, and betraying him. These days — these “holy days” — are when God cloaks his divinity, and submits to us at our conniving, self-interested worst. If we are honest, we might ask ourselves: This is wondrous love? What wondrous love is this, pray tell?
In a beautiful podcast for Good Friday, TJP’s own Brendan Busse encourages us not to run from our discomfort and incomprehension; not today, at least. For today,
The air is full of the tragic inevitability of death… We don’t FIX this one. We don’t have an answer to why this happens. It is an extravagant waste and a senseless loss. And this kind of suffering only God can bear. This is God’s work. Eventually Jesus entrusts his spirit to God, and we must do the same. We stand by the cross, we embrace the grieving, we offer only our compassion, and God’s divinity is hidden on the cross – and hidden too in our compassion for the crucified. If we trust the promise of love, we must go to the darkest places, we must sit with the suffering and be a source of compassion…
What wondrous love is this, exactly? Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote that the only simplicity to be trusted is the simplicity we reach at the far side of complexity. Today, with Jesus, we don’t get to fix life’s complexities and pains — but we are invited to pass through them, at the foot of the cross with Jesus. But we are not alone at the foot of the cross — we stand with one another, in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in need. Brendan Busse again:
Who is in need of compassion today? Who suffers alone? Who are the crucified? Who do you sit with in suffering or stand with in solidarity?
Without trying to fix this suffering, try instead of feel it. What does this compassionate suffering feel like? And what prayers rise from this place? What prayers rise from Calvary?
Easter will come soon enough…but for today, let us not run from death, but honor its passing.
Pray with Brendan’s 19-minute Podcast here, assembled by the dynamic duo of Br. Matt Wooters, SJ and Louis Hotop, SJ.