By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Institute
If you aspire to be a Jesus-like leader, the next four days are likely the most important ones you’ll be given this year.
That’s because to lead like Jesus, you have to know Jesus. And there is no better time to get to know him – to explore the meaning of his teachings, his life, his death and resurrection -- than the period between Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday.
It’s a veritable emotional roller coaster as the Christian world marks Jesus’ suffering, death and rising to overcome death in this short period.
Make yourself present to him as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, deeply troubled to the point of sweating blood, accompany him through his scourging and mocking, walk beside him as he carries his cross, gaze down on him twisting in pain as he’s nailed to a cross. Look as he hangs, slowly suffocating, and gives up his spirit to his Father.
Accompany his disciples to his tomb and discover it is empty. Try to imagine how that impacted them, and then stand with them when he appears to them – risen, alive, loving … but with his wounds intact.
A time to focus
This really is a time to focus on him as much as your busy, cluttered life allows. It’s a moment not to just take time, but to make time to be present to all that he endures as his human life draws to a painful end and his eternal, glorious, yet humble risen life begins.
For some of us the liturgies help us participate beyond words. For others it helps to read and reflect on pertinent, moving Gospel passages. Still others look for quiet places to meditate.
If you have nothing else to do but to reflect and worship, it will still be a busy time. And yet, even if your schedule is packed with meetings and deadlines, you can still manage to draw closer to Jesus in brief moments – if you focus on making the effort. It’s not a small thing to do our best, whatever that turns out to be.
This period is called the Paschal Triduum – a term I confess to not having heard through 13 years of Catholic schools. It’s the period from Holy Thursday evening through Easter Sunday evening. For many, the special liturgies help make the moments more poignant.
On Holy Thursday evening we have the Mass of the Lord's Supper, during which the celebrant washes the feet of people as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at his Last Supper. On Good Friday, the only day of the year when we don’t celebrate Mass, we commemorate the Lord's Passion.
Catholic columnist Michael Sean Winters writes: “The Liturgy of the Lord's Passion on Good Friday is unlike any other. We know it the second we walk in the church and see that the tabernacle is open and empty.”
On Holy Saturday evening we celebrate the Easter Vigil, welcome new members into the church and watch the church transform from darkness to light. On Easter morn we celebrate the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord – celebrating his rising from the dead and rejoicing in the knowledge that he has promised us eternal life too.
Look for opportunities to open your Bible to the Gospels, turning to the accounts of his passion, death and resurrection – reading bits and pieces as time permits. Read a bit. Stop. Reflect. Put yourself in the scene. It’s always a humbling experience to think that if I had been there I might have cast lots for his cloak or even pounded a nail into his hand. I might have.
For the past several decades, during this time our house and car are full of the music from Jesus Christ Superstar. We’ve seen several productions of the play, and the moving music transports us to so many poignant scenes of Jesus’ suffering and death.
When, for example, I hear a voice powerfully lamenting “I don’t know how to love him,” I’m there with her, struggling with that same call and challenge.
Check your TV listings – in advance – and see if you can get any of the programming from the Vatican. The times aren’t always convenient, but perhaps you can set your television to tape some of the proceedings. It’s awesome to experience being part of the universal church, sharing in Jesus’ universal promise with Pope Francis.
It’s not easy being a Catholic today. Perhaps it never was. But this is a time to let the light overcome the darkness, to stand in the light, celebrate the great promise and to thank the Lord for the life you have been given – and for the gift to be embraced as part of his great mission across time.
Use this time to draw close to him. The closer you come, the happier your Easter – and your life -- will be.