“I did this for you, Christine. Didn’t you know?”
My Holy Week journey this year began with reflecting on Palm Sunday as a starting point and recognizing that Easter was the destination. This is slightly flawed idea but for me it’s easier to take my journey to God a few steps at a time. I can’t drive from Connecticut to California without making a few stops along the way so why should my spiritual journey be any different?
Tuesday of Holy Week
I went to Reconciliation. I had been stalling, finding valid-sounding excuses to put it off since the beginning of Lent. I don’t why I do that to myself, but I do. As I talked with fellow sinners waiting to confess we all found common ground in our delaying tactics. God knows why we do that I guess. Part of my penance was to walk the Stations of the Cross. As I think back, I don’t recall ever having taken the time to walk the Stations alone. I’ve gone to communal Stations of the Cross for years but this was very different. I walked the Stations slowly but I was still processing everything that the priest has said to me in the confessional and I wasn’t really focusing. I knew I would be back to walk them again.
For the first time I gave in to the call of the Holy Spirit to have my feet washed. At St James it is an open invitation to the entire community to come forward to any of the 28 washing stations set up. The past three years I have resisted that pull for reasons I don’t really understand. Those nights I went home sad that I couldn’t step out of my little box for something so simple and yet so meaningful. This year I just let go of all my resistance and didn’t let myself think. It was a friend and sister in Christ who washed my feet, dried them, and kissed them. In my heart, it was Christ Himself who demonstrated such love for me. I had let my guard down, physically and spiritually. I allowed myself to be vulnerable.
When the service had ended, the church remained open for adoration. After taking my mother and younger son home, I returned with my older son to a quiet, dimly lit church that still smelled of incense. My son went off to pray by himself and after taking my shoes off, I went to spend some time with my favorite statue of Christ condemned. He is in the crown of thorns and purple robe, bleeding from the scourging but His eyes are full of peace and love. I skipped the kneeler, opting instead to kneel on the marble floor. It was my way of acknowledging His sacrifice. Bowing my head to the marble floor, I asked Jesus to let me hear His voice again. He’s been silent for so very long and it is getting so hard to ignore the gremlin in my head. I asked Him to get that miserable voice in my head to shut up so that I could hear His voice, even if it was just for one night. “Just let me know that You’re still there. I know You are, but I really need to hear Your voice.”
After just being quiet for a time, I got up and began to walk the Stations of the Cross. I walked barefoot on the cool marble trying to imagine the hot dusty roads of Jerusalem. At the very first one, where Jesus is condemned to death, I stopped and allowed myself to try to see what Jesus was really doing. He was allowing Himself to be condemned, knowing what was going to happen. As I stood there, there was a quiet whisper somewhere deep inside that said “I did this for you, Christine. Didn’t you know?” My soul was flooded with gratitude and relief that He was there with me. It took another few minutes before it sank in what He was saying. I’ve heard other people say they’ve heard that whisper from time to time but most are like me and are slow to comprehend.
I realized that I had never really accepted the idea of a one-on-one relationship with Jesus before. I always looked at Jesus as the Savior of the whole world, so that included me. That’s not the same thing as being my personal Savior. It’s sort of like being in grade school and bringing cupcakes in to share with the class on your birthday. You bring in enough for everyone, including your best friends, that weird kid you don’t hang around with, and the kids you don’t like but have to put up with because you all got stuck in the same class together. Unconsciously, I had the image that Jesus died for me because He got stuck with me since I was lucky enough to be born into a family of believers. My salvation was just a birthday cupcake that He had to give me because He was giving it to everyone else too. If I was lucky I wouldn’t get the one that got dropped upside down in the box and lost half of its frosting. Whether He wanted to do this for me as His Beloved Christine or not had never even entered the equation for me.
Walking the Stations of the Cross with that understanding of “I did this for you, Christine” at every step of that painful journey was a completely new experience for me. This was an unimaginable act of love. Who am I that my Lord would die for me? And yet there was no sense of Jesus saying, “Well duh! It’s about time you got it dummy!”
On some level, I’ve known He died for me and I’ve known it my whole life but over time it got lost. Like most people I’ve found that life layers loss upon loss and difficulty on top of challenges on top of stress. This one moment gave me a chance to look at the cross-section of my life. I could see the strata of good times, joyful moments, hard times and even the mundane times. I could see that life isn’t about what’s going on right now, it’s about adding another layer and all those layers coming together to create something new. My soul is not a simple thing like a brownie or a cupcake. It’s more like a seven-layer bar where some layers are sweet, some are soft, some are hard, and some are salty. It needs all those layers to come together to form something amazingly good.
The journey of Holy Week starts as a triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. There is preparation time, then quiet time with comrades. This is followed by solemn time of prayer and spiritual anguish. There is betrayal, cruelty, agony beyond understanding, and death. But from all of this comes new life and redemption. And it all happened for me. Wow!! That really changed the way I entered into my Good Friday and Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.
It has taken me over a week to even find the words to capture my week and even now I am struggling to do so. Have I fully taken in the understanding that Jesus did all this because He wanted to do it out of love for me? Nope. But that’s okay. Jesus knows that it’s beyond my ability to understand this entirely. He knows how many times I’ll forget and how many times I’ll begin to doubt it. He knows exactly how many times my faith will be challenged and even badly shaken. And He knows the exact moment when the knowledge of how much He loves me will finally sink in completely.
For right now, we’re celebrating that I am finally starting to see that this life isn’t a journey to God. This life is a journey with God. A road trip kind of journey where a friendship develops, deepens, and solidifies.