This is always one of the hardest weeks to understand for Christians. We are taken to the scene of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, his pathway strewn with palm fronds. His arrival was greeted by happy worshipers singing "Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord."
We sing our own hymns of praise on Palm Sunday knowing all the while that this acclaim will not last. We have read in Scripture the events of the coming days. Spy Wednesday it was once called. The middle of the week is a time of betrayal. Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve whom Jesus Himself had chosen, will turn against his Lord. Judas will greet Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane with the kiss of death. We proceed through this Holy Week with foreknowledge of the bitter innocent sufferings to come. Jesus the unblemished lamb will be turned over to the High Priest and then to the Roman Governor. He will be tried and convicted of false charges.
He will be scourged and then made to carry His cross to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. He will be numbered among the transgressors, though He was Himself without sin. When He is crucified and takes upon Himself the sins of the world, he feels abandoned. "Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani!" He cries out. "My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?" Never before in His life has Jesus felt so separated, so cast apart from His own immortal being. But it must be. It is God's own plan to save the world, to save us from our sin.
For a century and a half, people in the Western world have been taught that God is dead. And many of our greatest institutions of higher learning proceed on the assumption that God is dead. In science, philosophy, literature, economics, and history, some of the greatest minds in the richest nations of the world have thought and written and taught as if God is dead.
They don't always say it in so many words. They don't have to spell it out. "The Cosmos is all there is, all there was, and all there ever will be," said one popular scientist in a much-heralded PBS television science series.
This idea is behind all other ideas held in common by many of our elites on both sides of the Atlantic. Among prestige journalists, those who presume to tell us nightly "the way it is," 91 percent never attend a worship service of any kind.
Lord Bertrand Russell spoke for these cultured despisers of religion when he wrote:
That man is the product of causes, which had no provision of the end they were achieving. That his origin, his growth, his hopes, his fears, his loves and his beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms. That no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling can preserve an individual life beyond the grave. That all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noon-day brightness of human genius is destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system and that the whole temple of man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a Universe in ruins. All these things if not quite beyond dispute are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy that rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul's salvation henceforth be safely built.
It should not surprise us that such nihilism is rejected by most of the peoples in the Third World. There, even as they are subjected to the cruelest of persecution, perhaps even because our brothers and sisters are daily being murdered with Jesus, the faith is flourishing. The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church. Jihadists and dictators crucify our brethren for the same reason that Pontius Pilate decided to condemn an innocent man: To preserve the power of pitiless rulers.
Here in America, we face unprecedented challenges. We see the bedrock institutions of our country -- our Constitution, our Liberties, our families, our churches and synagogues, our schools, businesses, and workplaces under attack. These attacks come not from hostile foreign powers (although they are menacing anew), but even from agents of our own government.
"You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above," Jesus boldly told His accuser. He fully understood that the man to whom He spoke had the power to put him to death.
But Jesus also knew the One who had the power to put him to life. It is the same One who has the power to give life to each one of us, eternal life. It is for that reason that we look this week at the Cross and beyond the Cross. It is for that reason that we are filled with a full realization of the mortal dangers and of the immortal Promise. How fitting that this Good News comes to us now. As was told us five hundred years ago: Our Lord has Written the Promise of the Resurrection not in Books alone but in every leaf in Springtime.