The Juxtapositions of Easter

stabat materI have had a busy Holy Week. It’s overwhelming how so many very different things happen at once. That’s true of our spiritual life in general: work, and friends, and medical issues, and liturgy, and all the rest, all at the same messy time. It’s true, too, of the liturgies of Holy Week.

Holy Week begins with a strange juxtaposition. More than one person asked me about it this week: what’s going on with Palm Sunday? Even the name is confusing: “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion.” Which one is it?

On the one hand, the Mass begins with Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We sing Hosanna. (Hosanna, it turns out, is a Greek twist on a couple Hebrew words: it appears in the Bible only here, as the acclamation when Jesus enters Jerusalem.) We wave our palms. We acclaim the king.

And then, by the time the ordinary Mass begins, our Hosannas are forgotten. In the first reading, his beard is being plucked. In the second, he is emptying himself, taking the form a slave. The Psalm cries “why have you abandoned me.” And in the Gospel, we read the Passion in its entirety – already, right at the beginning of Holy Week.

Our palms remain awkwardly in our hands, while we are given the voice of a different crowd, crying not Hosanna but Crucify.

But that awkwardness, that strange juxtaposition, is just the point. We who wave the palms are the ones who betray him. And he who is crucified is also the king. This is the triumphal entry that he has eagerly expected. It’s all about that juxtaposition – the palms hanging limply in our hands.


This year we have another, but paradigmatic, juxtaposition. March 25 is ordinarily the Annunciation, the moment of great joy, when Christ comes into the world. This year it also happened to be Good Friday, dated according to the changing moon. Our celebration of the Annunciation is deferred till after Easter Week – but the juxtapostion is normal.

For March 25 is not just nine months before Christmas. We know Christmas is at the solstice, in the bleak midwinter. And it seems just an accident that the Annunciation awkwardly falls so close to Holy Week. But it is not awkward. It is the plan.

In fact, the Church settled on March 25 before it settled on December 25. Though we celebrate Easter following the old, lunar calculations for Passover, the traditional date of the Crucifixion was March 25. It is also the traditional date for the creation of Adam, the fall of Lucifer, the sacrifice of Isaac, and the crossing of the Red Sea.

These things go together. They are all one. Just as Christ is both king and crucified, and we are the crowd that both acclaims him and betrays him, so this is the time of when Adam is re-created, Satan is defeated, the first-born is sacrified, and the seas of death are conquered.

These are not just awkward, accidental juxtapositions. It all goes together. That’s the point.


Many years ago, some half-Christian family bought us a strange cross. Though it is the shape of the instrument of torture, on it are happy scenes from the life of Christ. Another awkward juxtaposition. Is he the Lord of happiness or the Lord of the Cross?

Here, the liturgical calendar has to de-juxtapose. On one level, the liturgical year simply comes down to the problem of reading the long Bible. It would be nice to read the whole Bible everyday. It all goes together. And it’s all important – we are not a religion of the 3×5 notecard, where everything can be said in a few words. The Bible is long, because there is a lot to say.

On some level, Holy Week is simply the time when we read this central passage. In fact, we read it a few ways. On Palm Sunday we read from the Synoptic Gospels, whichever Gospel we are reading that year. On Good Friday, we read from St. John. And we need those two accounts; they are different; they are richer in juxtaposition. John is like a commentary on the other Gospels – they tell us of the Eucharist, he tells us of the feet washing, etc.

Liturgically, we can’t read it all every day, so we break it up. But that crucifix we were given has sort of the right idea: the one who dies on Good Friday – yes and the one who rises again early on the morning of the third day – is the one, too, who healed the lepers, taught with parables, came to Cana in Galilee; the one who oversaw Noah and Abraham, David and Solomon, Ezra, the Maccabees, and the prophets of the exile.

In the thickness of the Bible, and the complexities of the liturgical year, we see the rich juxtaposition that makes up the whole of the Christian faith.

What parts of the faith do you find most hard to reconcile with one another? Can you learn anything by thinking about that juxtaposition?

Good Friday and Easter Sunday: Dead to Sin

San-DomROM 6:3-11

As we remember Good Friday today and look forward to Easter tomorrow night, let us pause to consider what the Cross and Resurrection means for us. There are so many readings the next three days, but for today, let’s just look at the reading from Romans 6 at the Easter Vigil. This is the reading introduced by the Gloria. Everything else leads up to it. The story of the Resurrection in the Gospel is, of course, the central action – but the Gloria frames the reading from Romans as the real proclamation of the good news, and it nicely explains both of these great days.


Paul begins by reminding us that “we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.” Baptism is above all the first sacrament, the sacrament of entrance into the Christian life. To say that we are baptized into his death is to say that our entire Christian life is rooted not just in the death of Christ, but in our entrance into that death. Good Friday is the beginning and center of the whole Christian life.

Paul next says, “we were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” Here he says two important things.

First, the death of Christ is important precisely because it is the place where God’s power over death is manifested. Death is not the last word, life is. But death is where we discover that true life comes from God. It is not that we are just fine, and have life within us. We desperately need God’s power to raise us up.

Second, Paul quickly moves from physical death and resurrection to spiritual resurrection. We are raised not just by the power of God, but “by the glory of the Father,” and we are raised not just to physical life, but to “newness of life.”

God’s power over physical life points to a much deeper power. It is his glory, our encounter with the goodness and the beauty of God, that brings new life to our soul. This is moral life, to be sure. But even deeper, it is spiritual life. This is what we are meant to encounter in the death and resurrection of Christ: the passover from Egypt to the promised land, from sin to the spiritual life.


Next Paul says, “If we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.” Easter is not about a transaction at a distance. It is about union.

Christ dies to be close to our death. He subjects himself to our sin, to the suffering we inflict on him, to be close to us while we are yet sinners, even when we refuse him. And he subjects himself to suffering, the suffering we experience, so that even our suffering can be a place of closeness to him.

He comes close so that he can raise us with him into newness of life. He became poor so that we could become rich. He unites himself to our humanity so that we can be united to his divinity. He comes to rescue us in our cruciform life so that he can draw us out of this life of suffering, the suffering we inflict and the suffering we experience, into a life where God is all in all, and all is peace.


And he calls us to be close to him. He does it all, in one sense – but he calls us to do it all, as well. His coming close does not work by magic. We have to cling to him.

We have to cling to him in our suffering. Rather than fleeing suffering, we must embrace it as the place where Christ is near. We must be near to those who are suffering. The Cross is where we profess our trust in God. If we run from suffering, our own and our neighbors’, we proclaim that we don’t think he’s worth meeting there.

But the Resurrection is where we profess the goodness of God. We must also cling to this. We must embrace the goodness of life, and above all the goodness of God, “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).


How could you better live union with Christ crucified in your everyday Christian life?