“They said, “If you are the Christ, tell us,” but he replied to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I question, you will not respond. But from this time on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” Words from our Gospel today from the 22nd chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke – sisters and brother, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
Something Buffalo is really good about is not simply making our events spectator sports. We are not just bystanders but are participants in the affair. Take the Buffalo Bills, for example. With everybody cheering and horns going off, the stadium can get pretty loud, making it hard for the other teams to concentrate. The energy of the fans in the stadium is often dubbed the 12th man, quite literally helping the Bills with a home field advantage. Many of the people that go to the games participate in the ritual of tailgating beforehand. For those of us that stay at home, we invite people over and live the experience together. We pull out our paraphernalia: our jerseys, our Bills flags, the crazy souvenirs we’ve collected, and proudly display our team colors. Many of us will throw the football around with our companions during the breaks and join in the game we ourselves love. And all the while, we are tracking the team’s statistics and standings, and watching how our players are doing on our fantasy football teams. We call into WGR550 throughout the year, even in the offseason, to applaud the team or to complain about them with emotional vigor. It pervades our whole culture. We live for this. We’re not just bystanders, but in our own ways, we are participants in the whole affair of being together part of the Buffalo Bills team and family.
In some respects, Holy Week likewise asks us to be more than bystanders; Holy Week invites us to be participants. As we follow closely the events of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection over these next few days, we are called to go all in and to be participants in these sacred mysteries together with Christ. On this day, Palm Sunday, this is highlighted in a very special and poignant way. Indeed, today we held up our palm branches and hailed the coming of the Messiah. And in the Gospel, we too had a role to play with our various parts and responses in the Gospel reading we proclaim together and so accompany Jesus on the road to Calvary. And yet, we are drawn into these events of Palm Sunday at every celebration of the Eucharist. Indeed, when Jesus holds up the bread and the chalice says do this in remembrance of me, he doesn’t simply mean for us to share our memories of something that happened a long time ago, but he means to come alive before us, that we too may participate in the Last Supper and have a direct sharing in his divine life. Jesus comes to us as the divine messiah in the Eucharist and so we proclaim, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest!” waving palm branches in our hearts. And at every Mass Jesus again offers himself up upon the altar of sacrifice of Calvary for our salvation, and so we declare what has just happened before our eyes, “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again!” Though everything that we do here recalls something that happened around the life of Jesus some 2000 years ago, it is our active participation in these things that brings us and joins us to that moment of time in our salvation history. Every time we come to celebrate our liturgies throughout the year, we are not meant to be bystanders but participants, as we physically come together, as we sing and pray and say aloud the responses in during Mass, as we listen to God speak directly to us in the Scriptures and as we receive his very presence in the Eucharist. As we ourselves follow along with and participate in these sacred mysteries, we have the opportunity to encounter Jesus here and now. And moreover, our mutual participation at Church draws us into something greater than ourselves, as being together in these things in turn strengthens us as a community of disciples and gathers us together into the very Body of Christ ourselves.
So, what do we do? Are we merely bystanders? It’s easy to follow the crowd and be a bystander. There were many people in Jesus’ day who went through the motions. Sure, they dutifully waved their palms and also shouted out with the mob to have Jesus lynched, but as spectators only, they never encountered who Jesus Christ was for themselves. On the other hand, we can be active participants in the sacred mysteries of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, like Veronica and the repentant thief and the centurion and Joseph of Arimathea and many other such figures who followed Jesus along the way all whom are represented in the Stations of the Cross. Let us participate, sometimes with anguish in our hearts over the suffering we are all made to endure in this world and the sins we inflict on each other, sometimes with joy at the salvation that is present at hand and the promise of peace, but yes let us actively participate with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, that we will encounter God here before us, present in our midst in the celebration of this liturgy. The instruction to start Mass today was this: “Therefore with all faith and devotion, let us commemorate the Lord’s entry into the city for our salvation, following in his footsteps, so that, being made by his grace partakers of the Cross, we may have a share also in his Resurrection and in his life.” Even more than Buffalo Billievers who pull out all the stops to celebrate their fandom and partake in the affairs of their team and are so drawn into something greater than themselves, so let us be participants and enter into these sacred mysteries. These days of Holy Week, let us not us not follow the crowd but indeed follow Christ. Let us partake in the affairs of Jesus as we carry our cross alongside him. So that encountering Christ ourselves, we too might come to share in his resurrection and in his life.