What do the movies Peggy Sue Got Married, X-Men, Men in Black 3, Star Trek IV, and Back to the Future have in common?
The same thing the novels A Christmas Carol, Rip Van Winkle, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban have in common.
They all feature time travel, a popular device in film and fiction.
Time travel overcomes the limits of reality. Like the ancient human desire to fly, time travel frees us from one of the basic limitations of existence—and least for as long as it takes to finish the book or movie.
There’s precious little chance that science will ever make it possible for us to travel in time. But the spiritual life does; in fact, the Christian regularly lives events of the past and even of the future.
We’ve just listened to the Passion—not to be reminded of a story we all know, but to enter into the story.
We’re about to begin a week in which we are invited to share in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus—not as spectators, but as participants.
In the fourth century, St. Gregory Nazianzen wrote “let us take our part in the Passover… not in a literal way, but according to the teaching of the Gospel; not in an imperfect wat, but perfectly; not only for a time, but eternally.”
“If you are Simon of Cyrene, take up your cross and follow Christ. If you are crucified beside him like one of the thieves, now, like the good thief, acknowledge your God.”
“If you are Joseph of Arimathea, go… ask for Christ’s body. …”
St. Gregory continues his invitation. “… bring spices and prepare Christ’s body for burial. If you are one of the Marys, or Salome, or Joanna, weep in the early morning.”
And it’s not only the Gospel that allows us to enter fully the timeless events of two thousand years ago. With equal power, the liturgy takes us back to Calvary and leads us to the glory of Christ’s resurrection—and to our own, still to come.
There is nothing a Catholic Christian can do that is more powerful and fruitful than participating in the events of Holy Week. Because the liturgies of the Sacred Triduum—Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil—carry us back in reality and not merely in symbol.
This is especially clear on Holy Thursday. We reenact the first Last Supper in symbol, washing feet as Jesus did; but we experience it in reality as we receive his Body and Blood just as the Apostles did.
On Good Friday, we stand at the cross no less than Mary and John did; we mourn our betrayal no less than Peter did. When we hear the haunting hymn “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)” we answer, “Yes. I am there. I am here.” The liturgy makes this possible.
At the Easter Vigil, we wait and watch with those first anxious disciples. The long night of sin ends with the dawn of victory, a victory which we not only celebrate but live.
Thursday night. Friday afternoon. Saturday night. Three opportunities to travel back, back to our future.