What must it have been like to be in Jerusalem on that one special Passover celebration that we remember today? The Feast of the Unleavened Bread, a commemoration of God’s mighty act of deliverance for his chosen people, whereby the nation of Israel was liberated from their Egyptian oppressors... The atmosphere of festive exhilaration must have reigned over the city, and great crowds of people gathered on its streets, having come from all over the Roman Province of Judea. It has been estimated that over 250,000 lambs were required each year to feed all the worshippers; that was the scale of these celebrations. And as every other Jewish man of that era, Jesus would have been expected to come to the Jerusalem Temple on this feast. Of course as we know now, this Passover would end very differently both for Jesus and for the entire cosmos. Yet, the words of the Passion Gospel do not allow us to skip over to next Sunday all too quickly. And I am grateful for this lengthy, difficult reading; grateful that we do make room in our lives to recount this greatest drama in human history, and to immerse ourselves into it in light of a very different Holy Week that is ahead of us this year.
For we certainly know from our own lives that the shouts of “Hosanna!” tend to turn into “Crucify him!” rather quickly; that our desire for greatness is as compelling to us as it was to the disciples gathered for dinner; that the words “I don’t know him” come as naturally to us as they did to Peter. It is true though, we don’t really know him. We don’t quite follow when he refuses to “exploit his equality with God” (Phil 2:6), borrows a little lowly donkey colt to illustrate this, and says, “Let the greatest among you become like the youngest”. We are still surprised by his anger when he chooses to cause utter chaos at the Temple right after all the praise that’s been given to him on the streets. The only ones who still hang on to their palm branches after that one are, in fact, “the youngest” - the children!
It strikes me that we have much to learn from our children when it comes to the sincerity of deep faith, even as we are the ones who are responsible to pass on to them our family traditions. I still recall the words spoken rather matter-of-factly by my, then much younger, daughter Sophie while at a dinner in a busy restaurant: “Mommy, I love God ... because he made me!” I could just see the head turning, and I am sorry to admit that I felt a little uncomfortable about the attention that she had drawn to us, even though I was quite proud of my little theologian.
The Jewish people have always taken the charge of instructing their children in matters of faith very seriously. There are passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy that, four times, command the parents to teach their children about Passover. A traditional Jewish Seder, a passover dinner, includes an element that makes use of these four passages in Torah, and tells the story of Passover to four imaginary children: the simple one, the wise one, the wicked one, and the one too young to ask. There is technically still the fifth child, the one who will not even come to the dinner. The simple child asks, “What is Passover?” The wise child asks, “What is Passover to us?” The wicked child distances himself from the community and asks, in jest, “What is Passover to you?” And the young child does not know to ask anything yet. The point of this dinner exercise is, of course, to highlight that all four children live in every one of us. And so today, each one of us is processing the reality of the current unprecedented situation that grips the world, as well as our continued relationship with God in light of this situation, from the inner, alternating perspectives of these “children”.
It is the wise child in us who knows that God is our source and sustenance, desires to learn more about who God is and what he has done for us, and keeps us connected to God by an unbreakable bond, even when we are inclined to ask more like the others. The wicked child in us denies Jesus, much like Peter; turns the Temple into a marketplace and abandons all hope in favor of cynicism. The power that the wicked children wield in this world is immense. Yet, both within ourselves, and in our community, the wise cannot ignore the others because we are all responsible for each other as well as for our own self-transformation. The simple child’s strength is an easier access to his/her affective and emotional sides -- a reminder that our faith is not all rational, and our souls extend beyond our minds. And the youngest ones amongst ourselves will continue to surprise us with their “left-field” questions that lead us towards the greatest insights.
It is our duty to proactively seek out all these children – in our families and within ourselves, invite them in, share our knowledge of God, and our beautiful traditions. The scripture itself speaks in so many different ways about the same set of truths. Out of whatever shape and form our holy week reflections will take for us at home, may we all reach out to others and find the right words and approach to explain our hope to them -- this will be especially important in today's difficult and uncertain times, when so many are searching for a renewed sense of meaning for their lives.
God comes to seek us in all places and phases. He chose to be present in the lowliest of places, our Egypt, so to speak – the place of bondage, coarseness, scepticism, dryness, and idolatry. He “passes over” the natural order of this world – i.e. sin results in death – and rises on Easter morning so we may rise with him. Thanks be to God!