This week is the transition from Lent to Easter season, and from the theme of dedication to mission (“Thy Kingdom come!”) to surrender in ministry (“Thy will be done!”).
Lent ends when we begin the “Easter Triduum” (“triduum” is the compression of tres dies, “three days”). Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (vigil of Easter Sunday) are all one celebration. This week of transition “sums up” and simplifies the whole mystery of redemption, which is the mystery of Christian life.
In a nutshell, to “be Christ” authentically we must “die to” ourselves by “emptying ourselves” of all pretense to human power and prestige, and “find ourselves” by “losing ourselves” in humble service to others. This is what it means to love one another as Christ has loved us.
This is — predictably — the last lesson that any of us learn, bishops, priest and laity alike. It was the first teaching of Jesus that Peter rejected after being named Pope. And on the very eve of Christ’s passion the Twelve Apostles had still not learned it (see Matthew 16:22 and Luke 22:24). This should not surprise us. Self-emptying love is the goal of everything Jesus taught, and goals are the last to be achieved. The rarest thing in football is a touchdown. If the rejection of power and prestige are the rarest thing in the Church, why should that shock us?
The final readings for Lent all call us to go beyond the human to think and act on the level of God — as made divine by Baptism. The Holy Week readings teach us, by the example of Jesus above all, that the way to reach this exalted level is to relish being at the bottom of the heap. But we are closed to it.
The easiest and most acceptable way to “be last” is to surrender ourselves in humble, loving service of others. To love is to put another first. To love like Christ is to put everyone first. It is impossible to do this without making ourselves last. This is what Jesus did, who, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,” and “humbled himself” by becoming “obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross.”
If we let that theme guide us through Holy Week, all will make sense to us.