With Passion Sunday, the Church continues her shift in focus away from constant references of penance and mortification, and towards giving us reasons for hope of what happens after said mortification. As of this Sunday, we will be two weeks away from Easter, where Our Lord and Savior not only conquered death, but made our eventual glorification possible. Just as He was changed, so will we be changed after our own resurrection.
The first sign of hope comes from the Collect, which states that we are part of God’s family. Often today when we hear of God, we treat him as some impersonal being far removed from the affairs of humankind. We pay so much attention to His kingly nature, we forget the fact that He wants to be an active part of our lives, because He is our father, and we are His children. While this imagery has always existed for secular rulers (viewing their subjects as children who they love and guide), it has always been just that: imagery. It isn’t real. Every bond of society in the realm of human affairs is limited, whereas the bond of the Church comes from heaven, because its source is God, the fulfillment of all of our longing.
The way that longing is fulfilled is treated in the Epistle in what I feel is one of the most powerful passages of Scripture, Hebrews 9. In this passage the Hebrew writer talks about all of the hopes and aspirations of his people, and how they are found in Christ, a high priest “of the good things to come” in the New Covenant. As a people, the Jews were a people of hope. They spent their existence hoping for the Messiah, and wrote beautiful literature of the fruits of said hope. The Hebrew writer is telling his audience that as great as those hopes are, Christ is the high priest of something better.
As we get closer to the Cross, this message becomes more important. At the first Good Friday, there seemed to be a great defeat. Everything everyone had worked for had been snuffed out, and the Evangelist Luke describes it as a situation of general despair amongst the faithful. That’s an easy feeling to identify with today. By all honest reckoning, our country (and most of the world) has turned away from a Christian culture. While we in the West negotiate the terms of our defeat, our brethren in the Middle East are offered the terms of martyrdom as they are systematically extinguished from the region to mostly indifference. Whereas many before would look to the Church in times of crisis, today a large portion of the faithful, for one reason or another, feel alienated from the one place that should provide them comfort.
It is for this reason it matters that Christ is a high priest “of the good things to come.” For most secular people there isn’t a lot of good in this world. For us Catholics, it seems like there is even less good in the world. Yet we must continue to remember that there is something better for us, and it exists because of that seemingly dark day. While it looked like the devil won, Christ conquered death on Good Friday, and then by his own power raised from the dead to show that there is nothing in the world that can hold us from God, even death.
This cause of joy is what Christ talks about in the Gospel when He states that Abraham saw that day and was glad. We know elsewhere from the Hebrew writer (in Hebrews 11), that when Abraham founded his house in the land of Israel, he looked towards the city “whose founder and builder was God.” Even in the earliest of days, Abraham was looking to the day when His people would inherit heaven. While we don’t know the level of detail Abraham saw in the future, we do know he took great solace in the promise. Christ was telling us that Abraham saw Christ establishing the Church, the people as numerous as the grains of sand on the beach, as numerous as the stars of the sky, a church of every color, nation and culture on Earth, all of them joining together in the heavenly family governed by God. We get to witness that moment every Sunday at Mass during Communion, but we should pay extra attention to that moment during these final few weeks of Lent, because that mystery is manifested in its fullness during the Easter season.