It was an unseasonably warm, February day in Washington D.C. My meetings wrapped early, so I figured I would do some sightseeing. One of the places I had always wanted to go was Arlington National Cemetery, a cemetery housing the resting places for some of the most distinguished national and military figures from our nations history. People who are buried there include John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert Kennedy, various military figures, astronauts, political leaders, and of course the countless casualties of war from over the years including those of today. People who are buried at Arlington died in service to our country, they died trying to protect and serve others.
I remember when I was there, I took a self-guided tour, Of course there were people around, but there were times when I was all by myself, walking on paths up and down the hills, looking at the grave markers lined up in perfect precision. It was a perfect day. 70 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, and where I was at, I could not hear a sound. I found myself enjoying being in this place, surrounded by the graves of countless people who had died trying to protect the life I was living, and trying to better the world I was living in. I found myself getting emotional, thinking about all of these people that died serving others, and appreciating the solemnness of the moment, but I was also overcome by the beauty of the place, the natural beauty and the beauty of the human spirit with which all of these people lived. It was a moment of solemn beauty.
It was the same way when I visited the national monument in Shanksville, Pennsylvania where Flight 93, one of the hijacked planes on September 11, 2001 crashed after passengers stood up, fought and overcame the hijackers of that flight who were intent on flying the plane into the US Capitol Building or the White House. And while I have never been there, I imagine this is the same type of feeling in Normandy, France, on those cliffs overlooking the beaches where thousands of allied troops landed and stormed up against the Nazi’s in 1941. Each one of these places has a solemn overtone of what occurred there, or who is buried there, and a reminder of the evils of this world and the worst the devil can dish out. But these places also have a distinct beauty about them, a beauty reminding us about all that is good in this world, the good that is in people and a beautiful reminder of what people are willing to do for the good of others. They are willing to sacrifice everything.
This solemn beauty is something that can be drawn from the readings today, on this Palm Sunday. There is so much packed into these readings. So many messages, so many lessons to be learned and so much about our faith. The Passion of our Lord is one of the most famous stories ever told, and it is one of the most brutal and unjust things to ever happen. Christ sacrificed everything. The suffering and death that Christ experienced was a humiliating and atrocious torture that He did not deserve, but is was some He had to endure. It was something Christ had to go through and sacrifice for us. For humanity.
This was God’s plan from the beginning, and it was Jesus’ purpose, to serve humanity, and to go to battle for us, and to sacrifice His body and His life for us, so that we could live eternally with He and His Father in Heaven. God sent His Son to become one of us, and to go to war for us to save us. Jesus took everything the devil could throw at him, he absorbed it and consumed it with every blow. Everything that Satan threw at Him, every wound, all the pain that anyone could imagine, Jesus handled with grace.
Even amidst this punishment, Jesus continued to teach us how we need to act. He continued to show us how we need to encounter our own crosses with humility and grace, and even have love for our enemies and those who persecute us. For all that Jesus endured, for all the blood that was shed, for all the solemnness of the occasion, there was a beauty there. There was a beauty in what He was doing, and what God was doing for us. The love Christ displayed for all of humanity – past, present and future – to undergo all of that suffering was indeed beautiful. We’re not worthy of this love. But yet, God loves us anyway. It is beautiful.
Just like when we visit those places like Arlington, Shanksville and Normandy, when we remember what those who died there did for us, and we experience the solemn beauty of their sacrifice, we also must also look at what Christ with a greater reverence. So often, it seems that we say we believe in Christ, but do we really believe? Do we understand and appreciate what he endured? After all, we are 2000 years removed from when he was crucified. You look at the events of today and they re so much more real. We essentially see them happening live on TV and therefore we feel and we experience the pain. We feel it in our hearts, and sometimes we feel it personally. But it’s hard to imagine what Christ went through, it’s hard to understand the sacrifice He made and it’s hard to fully fathom His love for us. It’s hard to see the grace that surrounded Him that day.
But we can experience it. Because of that day, we can experience His grace. We can experience it through the Sacraments, from Baptism to the Eucharist, through the bonds of Marriage and through the cleansing of Reconciliation and everything in between. All of the Sacraments are gifts we’ve been given, gifts of grace that we can receive because of the sacrifice Christ made that day. We need to remember this sacrifice, every day. When we encounter hardships, temptations, and evils in this world, we need to remember that Christ encountered it too, but He was obedient to His Father throughout it all. We must live out the example that He set, and use the gifts we’ve been given.
So today and everyday, we should remember the solemnness of the occasion, of His Passion, of Christ dying to protect our souls and provide a better eternal life for us. But we also need to embrace the love and grace with which Christ endured that suffering for all of us. May we never forget the solemnness of the day, but let’s also live our lives with the beauty and grace of Christ.