Cortez: Here comes Holy Week: Beyond the rituals

ON SUNDAY we once again begin the observance of the Holy Week. We will go to church and participate in the usual religious activities and services. We will hear the same readings that have become deeply ingrained in our consciousness, and we will perform acts of piety and works of mercy. Very well and very good, but lest we forget, we must be doing everything for the right reason and for the sincerest of intentions.

In inadvertent self-righteousness we often despise and scorn many of the characters around whom the Lenten story revolves. We point an accusing finger to others, blaming them for their role in the crucifixion of the Lord, or at least, for loving less than they should. But many times, don’t we see glimpses of ourselves in each one of them?

Are we not sometimes like the apostles who at the Garden of Gethsemane cannot keep a minute of prayer because they were so tired and sleepy? Are we not like Peter who was so bold in insisting that he will not leave the Lord, only to deny him after a few hours? Maybe we do not deny the Lord in words, but don’t we deny him in action whenever we choose not to obey him and commit sin instead?

Are we not like the scribes and Pharisees who demanded strict and legalistic observance of the Law, but who forgot the spirit of love upon which the whole Law should be founded? Are we not like the Jews who wanted an earthly king to rescue them from their worldly cares, and who found it hard to understand the spiritual king whose way is the way of the cross?

And aren’t many of the rulers in modern society like Pilate who chose to do not what was right, but what was politically convenient, evil as it may be? We can go on and on – the wicked soldiers who mocked Jesus, tortured him, and nailed him on the cross; the apostles and disciples who ran away in fear, abandoning their Master at the hour of greatest need; and the bystanders who tested and challenged the Lord to prove his power by saving himself.

All of humanity is represented by these shady characters, and more, as the drama of the Holy Week unfolds. To be sure, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

The verdict is clear, “Guilty! We are all guilty of sin, worthy of death.” But somebody has already assumed our punishment. Somebody has already offered his life for us, even suffering a gruesome death. He chose to love, not to hate; to save those who believe and not condemn, to forgive and not punish, to restore and not destroy.

This Holy Week, with and beyond the rituals, let us think of the bloody King hanging on the cross. With his gentle voice we can almost hear him say, “I did this for you. This is how I love you.”


Dr. Cortez currently teaches at the University of Guam, Guam, USA.
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