Today I focus on the readings for the “B” cycle of the Lectionary; these passages will be read at most masses throughout our country rather than the optional texts for masses with catechumens. Before getting to the scriptures however, we note that the period of Passiontide begins today; this is a more immediate time of preparation for Palm Sunday and the remembrance of the Lord’s passion during Holy Week. In order to move us into such a spirit of penitential reflection the covering of statues is allowed beginning today, representing a sort of “fasting” for the eyes. Later, this penitential sign of longing for renewal is deepened by the removal of holy water from churches on the days of the Sacred Triduum.
Turning to the readings, we first behold a beautiful promise made by the Lord through the prophet Jeremiah: “I will place my law within them and write it on their hearts.” This promise of a new relationship with God is perceived however as something which lies on the far side of a period of suffering, as witnessed first by Jeremiah: “this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord” (Jer 31:33), and as was made clear in the second reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered” (Heb 5:8).
Christ’s own acceptance of his approaching passion is clear, though colored understandably by human anxiety: “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” His angst over his own suffering is a powerful reminder to us when we are in distress that he has been there before us and knows our pain. We are able to find meaning in suffering, painful as it is, precisely because Jesus preceded us on this hard path, and our suffering is a share in his.
Our participation in his Passion is plainly forecast in the verse that is sung as the acclamation before the gospel reading: “Whoever serves me must follow me, says the Lord; and where I am, there also will my servant be” (John 12:26). Lent and this period of Passiontide are indeed important annual reminders that we all experience a share in Christ’s passion in life, though in different circumstances and to differing extents.
The story of course does not end there: Jesus first announces to his followers that the consummate moment of his ministry has arrived: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” He then instructs his disciples that they too must bear their crosses if they are to be faithful to him: “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Finally he forecasts what will be accomplished through his own passion, giving meaning to ours: “now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”
As we enter the days of Passiontide, let us unite ourselves with Christ in his hours of darkness that we might find hope and light through him in our times of suffering. Doing so, we will be true to our Lord’s words “Whoever serves me must follow me” and we can rejoice in his promise “The Father will honor whoever serves me” (John 12:23ff).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.