The readings this Holy Week begin with the plaintive of the prophet Jeremiah, weeping about the injustice of this world. Gerard Manley Hopkins paraphrases it like this:
Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build – but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.
These words never go out of currency: in every corner of the world, there are people crying out about the prosperity of the wicked, the unjust suffering which comes upon them, the ways in which the world seems out of joint.
This week, Holy Week, we see God’s answer to the cry of the poor. It is not the answer we often long for. We crave something like a new Exodus, a mighty God who will reach down from heaven and anoint a savior and lead us into a new freedom, a well-ordered world. (That, too, was God’s response to human need. When God called Moses, he said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them.”)
God said then, “I know their sufferings,” but God did not know them, then, in the flesh. God had not tasted them, allowed them to shape God’s very being. God lived in response to them, but in Holy Week, he enters them.
He enters them in all the terrible vulnerability of a human being. He enters them with his own ragged flesh, his own desperate loneliness, his own deep gulp of the bitter cup of injustice and cruelty.
It can be hard to look on, hard to think about. It’s so much more pleasant to go from the raucous joy of Palm Sunday to the wondrous awe of Easter. I know why many people do not go to church on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. It has nothing to do with being busy, and a lot to do with not wanting to see.
But God is not like us. God sees. God hears. God does not turn away.
Thanks be to God.