The liturgy of Holy Week teaches us that a crisis situation (limit situation) can be a defining moment—it can make us or break us.

On the first day of the week (now celebrated as Palm Sunday), a few days before Passover, Jesus entered Jerusalem knowing that he was about to fulfil his destiny. He knew that he was about to face a crisis situation because He knew that fulfilling His destiny would entail suffering and even death. This imminent situation that Jesus faced can be described as a limit situation, which according to American theologian, David Tracy, is a situation in which an individual finds himself or herself that presents a limit to his or her existence. Tracy explains that “limit situations” refer to “those human situations wherein a human being ineluctably finds manifest a certain ultimate limit or horizon to his or her existence.”[1]

One type of limit situations is the “boundary situation”; an example of a boundary situation is “the recognition of death as one’s own destiny.”[2]  Jesus knew that the time of his departure from this world had come. While in Jerusalem, Jesus told his disciples, “You know that in two days’ time it will be Passover, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”[3] This reality was Jesus’ forthcoming crisis situation and boundary limitation.

Immediately following the Last Supper with his disciples, as Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, he expressed his feelings towards this crisis and inevitable fate when he said to his disciples, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.”[4] As he continued his prayer alone, he said to his Father, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!”[5] Here, Jesus is now in a liminal positon, a transitioning or undefinable stage, one he could not escape. It can be said that his back was against a wall and He has nowhere to go, no way to escape. At this point, he faced two choices: He could accept his destiny or He could refuse to fulfil it, thereby leaving Jerusalem. He chose to accept it.

Limit situations force us to make hard choices, choices that no one else can make for us. Yet, once we make the right choice, a whole new world of possibilities become available to us. For Jesus, his passion, suffering, and crucifixion did not end in death but in resurrection and eternal life. In accepting his limit situation, he rose above it and overcame it, and the victory that Jesus gained is unmeasurable. The goal of anyone facing a limit situation should be not allowing it to intimidate him or her. A limit situation can be likened to an obstacle. While obstacles are often not of our own making, they can still be overcome because they push us to action. Recounting and reliving Jesus’ Paschal Mystery, the story of how he faced and overcame his limit situation, can be viewed as a call to action for Christians.   

When we as Christians face our own limit situations, we can allow these situations to bring out the best in us and for us. For some of us a limit situation could be an addiction, an un-repented sin, unforgiveness, or struggling to survive daily. Jesus’ example shows us that even if it seems like it cannot get any worse than abandonment, insult, pain, ridicule, or unjust treatment, we are not stuck in that position. We have the power to change our direction by breaking down or removing what is pressing us up against a wall and controlling us. We do this be simply taking action—mental and physical.

“Limit situations force us to make hard choices, choices that no one else can make for us. Yet, once we make the right choice, a whole new world of possibilities become available to us.”

J.D. Crichton, on writing about the liturgy of holy Week, reminds us that “the liturgy of Holy Week, is the place of encounter with Jesus Christ. In the liturgy something really happens. It exists at the level of action . . .  word and response. Movement and gesture, the movement of the mind and heart in faith and love, the willingness to grasp what is laid before us, all these are necessary if in fact we are to ‘lay hold’ of the power of the mystery of Christ.”[6]

Our mortal lives can be explained as limit situations because we face an inevitable death that is always pending. We can choose to live life fearless and free knowing and believing that we can overcome this limit be choosing to live life as Jesus modelled—loving our neighbor even when they are different to us; caring for the poor, the oppressed and marginalized; defending the rights of the persecuted; helping those in need. Or, we can live life in a constant liminal state, a state of relentless indecision, unknowing, and fear, which tend to push us away from as opposed to Christ. What is always required on our part is action. We cannot stay static.  

J.D Crichton adds, “If the people take that active, conscious and devout participation in it [the liturgy of Holy Week] which the Church urges upon us, they will in fact make a living encounter with the redeeming Christ and will advance in the way of holiness which is the whole purpose of the liturgy.”[7]

Let’s not run but race into Holy Week enthusiastically knowing, like in every other situation in life, we will get out of it in proportion to what we put into it, so that we will be able to draw ever closer to our final destination with joy knowing that we have conquered life and overcome death.

     [1] David Tracy, Blessed Rage for Order: The New Pluralism in Theology (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996), 105.  

     [2] Tracy, Blessed Rage for Order, 105.

     [3] Matt 26:2 (NASB).

     [4] Matt 26:38 (NASB).

     [5] Matt 26:42 (NASB).

     [6] J.D. Crichton, The Liturgy of Holy Week (Herefordshire, England: Fowler Wright Books, Ltd., 1983), 12.

     [7] Crichton, The Liturgy of Holy Week, 12.

Featured Photo by Joshua Davis on Unsplash / Additional Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

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