Jesus experienced our life as humans. During Holy Week, we can experience his life.
By Tony Staley
Most summers, when I was in high school and college, were spent
working in a cannery that processed fruits and vegetables. Part
of one summer, I helped load cases of frozen fruits and
vegetables onto rail cars. As cannery jobs go, it was pretty
good. We could set our own pace and we could talk on the job.
Neither one was possible in most other jobs where noisy machines
decided how fast one worked and made conversation impossible.
The only drawback was that sometimes we'd run out of rail cars to
load. When that happened, we'd be put to work on other projects,
such as sweeping floors or repairing broken pallets. At such
times, our boss would come to us and say, "Here's what we're
going to do next..." Except that when he said "we," he meant
"you," since he didn't really mean he was going to join us at the
new task anymore than he stood side-by-side with us stacking
cases in rail cars.
As we prepare to enter Holy Week, this story well illustrates a
difference between my boss and our Christian God. God does stand
by our side and go through life with us. Through the incarnation
of Jesus and the resulting human joy and suffering - including
death on a cross - God experienced first-hand what humanity
entails. Only Christianity can make that claim.
There are many ways to explain why Jesus became one of us and
died. These explanations include the need to redeem or save
sinful humanity and, as we were taught in our Catholic grade
school religion classes, thereby reopen the gates of Paradise
slammed shut with the sin of our first parents. One also could
argue that Jesus came to provide us with an example of how we
should live and love God, ourselves and others.
It would not be accurate to say that Jesus became one of us out
of idle curiosity - that is, that the Trinity was sitting around
talking one day, wondering what it felt like to be human, and
therefore decided to send the Second Person to find out.
However, by becoming human, Jesus learned intimately what's
involved in being human. Jesus went through it all, from birth,
infancy and childhood, through adulthood, death - and the
resurrection we believe awaits us all because of Jesus'
Along the way, Jesus felt hunger as a baby - and probably as a
growing teenager - and definitely during his 40-day retreat in
the desert. He experienced love from Mary and Joseph and his
closest friends. He felt joy at the wedding feast of Cana, in the
miracles of healing and the companionship of friends. He knew
sorrow at the death of his friend, Lazarus. He learned about the
frustrations of being misunderstood - especially by his closest
followers. He knew about the fickleness of a public who demanded
more miracles and who turned against him when he discovered that
he was not the political savior they thought he was. He found out
about betrayal through the actions of Judas and Peter. He learned
about terrible mental agony from the Garden of Gethsemane the
night before his death. And, he experienced the almost unbearable
physical pain of scourging and crucifixion and the reality of
These feelings are the realities we all experience as we undergo
the blessings and trials that come to us during our own lives.
And unlike believers in a non-Christian religion, we know that
our God underwent these same sorts of joys and sorrows, including
the penultimate experience of death - a concept they cannot grasp
possible for the deity. But the good news is that his death was
followed on the third day by the ultimate event that, as St. Paul
said, denies death its victory and sting (cf 1 Cor 15:55) by
proving the wisdom and power of God through the same cross that
to others is a stumbling block or an absurdity (cf 1 Cor 1:23-24).
Holy Week affords us the opportunity to experience with Jesus
many of the key events in his life. By plunging into these eight
days of liturgies, we can experience Jesus' life just as he
experienced our lives as humans.
The key liturgies during Holy Week are Passion Sunday, Holy
Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and Easter. The saving
events of Jesus' life played out this week can deeply touch and
shape our lives if we participate fully in them by paying close
attention to the proclamation of the Scriptures and the preaching
on them, active engagement in the entire liturgy, and meditation
during the week.
Taking advantage of Holy Week to the full extent of our abilities
will allow us on Easter to triumphantly proclaim, along with our
Triune God, "Been there. Done that."