Passion Week in an Election Year
User's Guide to Sunday
BY Tom and April Hoopes
March 25-April 7, 2012 Issue | Posted 3/15/12 at 4:22 PM
Sunday, April 1, is Passion (Palm) Sunday (Liturgical Year B, Cycle II). The Sunday Gospel covers each Holy Week event.
April 5 is Holy Thursday, April 6 is Good Friday, and Holy Saturday is the night of the Easter vigil.
April Fool’s Day
It is appropriate that Passion Sunday falls on April Fool’s Day this year. In the Catholic tradition, many saints have remarked on the “folly” of Christianity. In doing so, they follow St. Paul, who says:
“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the learning of the learned I will set aside’” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
All of us who follows Christ on the Way of the Cross this Holy Week are “April fools.”
Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15:47 or 15:1-39
Holy Week in an election year is a great time to listen to the lessons of Passion Sunday, because Christ’s passion is the antithesis of the political warfare that saturates our attention this year.
Political candidates try to edge out their opponents to gain power. Today, we witness Jesus giving up his power to help his opponents.
As we watch the candidates campaign, with debates, reversals and surges, Americans take a roller-coaster ride in their hopes and fears for the next four years of the country. But Jesus is the steady, certain, ultimate hope for all eternity.
Candidates, no matter how good they are, lose in the end: The greatest presidents have a mixed record and a limited time in office.
But the great lesson of Holy Week is that Jesus wins the war after losing every battle.
Here are two sure reasons for hope from today’s Gospel via political jargon:
1. The Polls Don’t Count.
Jesus did not do very well in terms of public relations. His “favorables” were very high when he entered Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. But, by its end, he had even lower approval ratings than Barabbas, a murderer.
Election years heighten our tendency to worry about what “most people think.” We know this will translate to policy changes, and policy changes really do matter. But by losing the public-relations war so thoroughly, Jesus taught us that, ultimately, public-opinion polls don’t matter.
When people favor this or that crazy policy or this or that sinful practice, be not afraid. The world always goes to great lengths to silence Christ’s voice, but he is the very Word who created the universe. No matter what people do or say, God is the ground of being they stand on, and his is the first, middle and final word.
Think of how completely Christ’s voice was drowned out in the public square in today’s reading. Jesus did not just have no ability to speak — he was slapped, spit on, and his claim to authority was mocked. But in and through all of that, his fidelity to the Father’s will spoke louder than the shouts of his opponents.
2. The Good Guy Can Lose, and It’s Okay.
In the Easter story of the disciples going to Emmaus, we get a glimpse of how his friends looked at the Passion. They looked at it in much the same way we look at November when the vote goes the other way.
They are fleeing Jerusalem. “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel,” they tell a stranger they meet. But, instead, “our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.”
Jesus had lost the election. He hadn’t won the political victory his followers had hoped for, and even the members of his inner circle — his campaign team — turned against him.
Worse, Jesus suffered the most complete defeat in the history of the world: He was killed, drained of blood, buried, and locked in his tomb. But even killing him and hiding him away could not stop his power.
The same thing happens in the political battles we lose.
It is good to try to make life better for others by promoting the common good through politics. But the Crucifixion teaches us that political power is transitory and secondary to God’s power. And God’s power triumphs precisely when God seems weakest.
Christ’s power will carry on unabated. The important thing is to witness to the fidelity he modeled: Do the will of God no matter what. Do your best and leave the rest to him. He will surprise his friends in our time, too.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.
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