[The eldest son] answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you... But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ (Luke 15: 29-30)
The exclamation from the eldest son (“this son of yours”) has stayed with me far longer than a gospel typically does. In it I heard the usual: frustration and anger at his brother and father, jealousy at the immense grace his father has shown his brother, judgement for how his brother has treated his family. However, this year I surprisingly heard something new. As I read this very familiar passage, I heard for the first time the resonances of more profound notes of fear, sadness and heartbreak.
The elder brother reveals that, in his spirit, he has severed his relationship with his brother. Instead of calling him my brother, he says, “this son of yours.” I believe he does this not just out of anger, but for self-preservation as well. It is a defense mechanism to protect himself from the pain and heartache of losing his brother. I say this because I recognize this defense mechanism in me.
The world did not stand still once the pandemic began three years ago. Amid the cataclysmic shifts of living through a pandemic and witnessing the millions of people who died of the virus worldwide, other earth-shattering events have occurred. The injustices of how police and our justice system treat people of color was revealed, the MeToo movement revealed the abuse and harassment women face every day, wars in Afghanistan and Ukraine, natural disasters exacerbated by humanity’s pollution and damage of the planet, and so on and so forth. It is overwhelming to fully comprehend.
I find myself trying to protect my spirit by thinking to myself, “that’s horrible that happened, but I don’t need to worry because that wouldn’t happen to me… or that wouldn’t happen here… or that wouldn’t happen to my family… I consciously and subconsciously keep repeating this mantra to hide the reality: I am heartbroken because of all of the death and suffering in the world and I worry about our future. I sever my relationship with all of my siblings in Christ, so I don’t feel the pain of their loss and suffering.
Perhaps there just isn’t anger behind the elder brother’s exclamation, but also pain at losing his brother, also heartbreak at being rejected, and sadness and fear at the possibility of feeling this way again. And so, he severs his relationship with him. It doesn’t matter what he does because he isn’t my brother anymore, he is my father’s son.
And yet, thankfully, the story does not end there. The Father meets his eldest son out in the middle of the field where he is adrift and bewildered:
Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” (Luke 15:31-32)
The Father reestablishes their relationship (“this brother of yours”) and encourages the that they walk through the truth together (“was dead… and lost.”) He broke our hearts and left us. Finally, the Father offers the promise of resurrection, reconciliation and rebirth (“has come to life… and has been found.”) Our family can be whole again… we can be whole again.
As we prepare to enter Holy Week, we are confronted with the reality of the consequences of our sins. No liturgy does this so powerfully like the Way of the Cross; a liturgy that invites us to walk with Jesus during his arrest, trial, execution and burial. Together we witness the cost of our transgressions and experience how Jesus redeems the cross to bring salvation to all of creation.
This year, the Diocese of Western MA and the Diocese of MA have worked together through the organization B-PEACE for Jorge, a ministry that seeks to bring awareness to the anguish of gun violence in the state of Massachusetts and inspire action to bring peace to our communities. Together we have created a virtual Way of the Cross that will be available to both of our dioceses beginning on Palm Sunday and all throughout Holy Week.
You will travel east to west, from station to station, each being led by a parish or ministry in our dioceses who will offer reflections about the Passion of Christ and the trauma of gun violence in our state. You are invited to watch, reflect, share, pray and witness. We remember that death and suffering does not have the last word. By walking through the Passion, we receive the promise of Resurrection and new life where all will be made whole.