Reflection: Taking Up the Cross

Holy Week comprises the series of days that remember the events surrounding Jesus’ death, culminating with the celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Jesuit Father John Donohue reflects on the ways that the passion of Christ continues to inspire others to take up the cross.

Holy Week is a surprising title that describes the path to the brutal execution of someone who preached Good News to the poor and liberty to captives, who ate and drank with those scorned by “polite society,” tax collectors and sinners, who praised those who hungered and thirsted for justice and called peacemakers the children of God. He called God his Father who sent his rain to bless the good and bad alike. He healed the sick and fed the hungry and gathered followers around him and taught them to follow his example.

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Fr. John Donohue, SJ, reminds Christians that following Christ means taking up their cross.

But when religious and political leaders turned against him because his message undermined their world of controlling others, one of his trusted followers arranged for his arrest, while others fled for their lives; the first one he chose, Simon, later named “Rock,” melts before the taunts of a serving girl, starts cursing and says he had no idea who Jesus was. Finally condemned on trumped-up charges by a craven Roman governor, he was crucified, the most vicious method of execution in the ancient world, as an example of what would happen to those who might be tempted to follow him.

But holy is this week since three days after his horrible death, his tomb was found empty by devoted women followers, and heavenly messengers proclaimed, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.”

Death is emptied of its power as the tomb is emptied of its corpse. The women are to go “tell this on a mountain” to disciples in Galilee, where Jesus will meet them with words of forgiveness and send them out again to gather disciples who will teach all nations to follow Jesus’ teaching and example. But, he assures them, they will not be alone for “I am with you always.”

Holy Week truly is every week, when the story of Jesus unfolds again in the lives of his followers through the centuries. On Nov. 16, 1989, six Jesuits and two women co-workers were viciously murdered by government death squads for the crime of reaching out to the poor and educating them about the structures of injustice that plagued their land. Again, this year, on April 7, a similar scenario was played out, when Frans van der Lugt, a Dutch Jesuit who had been serving the poor Muslim and Christian alike in Syria for 50 years, was dragged out of his house, beaten and killed.

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An image of the El Salvador martyrs who were murdered in 1989.

Holy Week, as ever, reminds us that to follow Jesus is take up his cross, and to follow him to new life and the victory over all that is deadly and destructive in our world.  Fr. Jon Sobrino, SJ, a companion of the murdered Jesuits, who escaped death only because he was lecturing in Thailand, reflected on their lives as continuing the subversive memory of the cross: “The most specific portion of this memory continues to be the cross of the assassinated and martyred Jesus, the darkness and light, the sin and grace. From that point on, true Christianity will be nothing else but bringing people and societies together against the part of the cross which is sin and in support of that part of the cross which is love.”

This is a call and a mission during this Holy Week, 2014.

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