“We are an Easter people, and hallelujah is our song!”Pope St. John Paul II
An assisting priest at my home parish always started his Palm Sunday homily with the same story. He had gone to Germany during Holy Week, where every ten years the Oberammergau Passion Play is performed. Thousands of people from Oberammergau and the surrounding towns take part in this play as actors, instrumentalists, prop artists, and more. Despite the sheer volume of people involved in the play, there was one distinct casting choice that this priest took to heart. The same people who made up the crowds during Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday were the same that demanded his death on Good Friday.
Our entry into Holy Week and through the days of Jesus’ passion and death asks us to reflect on this same point: where are we in this story?
Throughout our own lives we play this same dual role. We can praise God through our words and actions, and we can betray him through the same. The same mouth we use to give encouraging words to a struggling friend can also speak disrespectfully about God and other holy things. The same hands that carry groceries for our elderly neighbor can text gossip and spread hate online. The same feet that lead us to church can carry us to the places and things that we know are detrimental to our emotional and spiritual health. The same mind that contemplates Jesus can harbor the dehumanization of others by reducing them to how they can benefit us or how we can use them for our own pleasure, satisfaction, or self-promotion.
But how can we seek a way out of this duality? How can we grow out of our sins, and the temptations that surround us? How can we live fully as people who praise God through all we do?
As the saying goes, herein lies the answer. If you have ever been to the Mass on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter, you probably noticed that there are a lot more readings than usual. These passages step through salvation history: the Creation, the parting of the Red Sea, and the promises of God to the Israelites despite (and through) their own sins. It leads right to the Gospel, as the women who went to anoint Jesus’ body realize he is gone, and alert the Apostles to their discovery.
God chose the Israelites to be his people. Time and again, their failures, not unlike our own today, are marked through the Scripture passages. Despite the failures of our own humanity, in our self-created darkness, Jesus came to bring the light that comes only from Love itself. His sacrifice was the ultimate love. His resurrection shows the transformative power of that love.
Our discovery of this Easter joy, of this ultimate love, leaves us with a choice. We can choose to uplift or destroy others in our words. We can let ourselves be led by love or by fear. We can carry the needs of others or can hold tight to our self-driven priorities. We can consider God and his creation through his eyes, or through the world’s broken shades. This choice is in every single moment, presented to us by God.
As John Paul II recalled in the opening quote, “we are an Easter people”. We are meant for the light that Christ brought to the world through his passion, death, and resurrection. Unlike the actors in the play, we are not stuck in the revolving swing between darkness and light, life and death. We can choose to ascend, trying, again and again, to live out our calling as an Easter people until it is time for us too to experience the resurrection.