“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Psalm 22:1)
This poignant, excruciating cry from the responsorial psalm for this Sunday, Palm/Passion Sunday is echoed by Jesus from the cross during the narration of the Passion during the same liturgy.
Perhaps there are some amongst us, faithful believers, who are nonetheless seeing this present coronavirus, as a sign that God has indeed “forsaken” or abandoned us. Are we being punished for our sins, and the sins of all the world? Such thoughts can plague us as we hear, day by day of an increase in the number of coronavirus cases, and deaths, including priests, doctors and nurses.
We need to remember that, in Jewish liturgy, to proclaim the first line of a psalm, meant to proclaim the whole psalm. Psalm 2 does begin with a sobering declaration: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It does go on to speak of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual agonies undergone by the psalmist: “My hands and feet have shriveled /I can count all my bones” and “all who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they shake their heads’ and “they divide my clothes among themselves and for my clothing they cast lots.” But the psalm itself concludes with a mighty declaration of trust and faith in God: “In the midst of the congregation I will praise you /glorify him, stand in awe of him!”
All the readings during this Sunday’s liturgy, which is Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday, speak of how suffering and death lead to resurrection and triumph. This is the God-intended, Scripture-ordained, path for God’s Anointed One, His Messiah, Jesus Christ. We cannot hope to emulate Christ and be His faithful disciple, if we are unwilling to take up our own cross, which may be the fear and uncertainty we are feeling right now in the midst of the coronavirus, or even suffering the symptoms of the virus ourselves. The pangs of doubt, of anxiety, the sufferings attendant on not being able to get to Mass or even enter our parish church to pray, all of these are the stuff of sacrifice and surrender, the things we hand over to God and ask him to join with the sufferings of his beloved Son, Jesus, fulfilling St Paul’s own words from his letter to Colossians: “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”
This is the path all the saints followed, in imitation of Jesus, the path by which they ascended to holiness, the path by which you and I, too, are called to follow. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Matthew 16:24-26)
I wish you a blessed and spiritually fruitful Holy Week!!