Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

During  our celebration of Palm Sunday there is no other time in the Liturgical Cycle where the readings wreak such havoc on our emotions, where we are taken from a growing state of pure joy to utter despair within the course of just one Mass.   For weeks now we’ve been celebrating Jesus’ triumphs… gaining new followers in Samaria with the woman at the well, curing the man born blind, and last week, raising Lazarus from the dead.  With joy and revelry the people welcome Jesus into Jerusalem cheering and waving palms, but the dark undercurrents that have been following us all along are now coming to fruition…

Matthew 21:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
Philippians 2:6-11
Matthew 26:14-27:66

We begin our Mass outside in front of the church as we relive the moment of Jesus’ triumphal entry into the City of Jerusalem.  With our opening reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we see Jesus has planned for everything as the people cheer in welcome for this great prophet from Galilee.  We, like the citizens of Jerusalem, wave our palms in honor of this new deliverer.

Once inside the church, we hear a familiar reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, reminding us that a prophet’s life can be very difficult.  More often than not, the people do not favor what the prophet has to say, yet for all the verbal and physical abuse they suffer, they are still compelled to deliver the Lord’s messages.  Our Psalm echoes the despair they often feel, be they Isaiah, or Paul, or Mother Theresa, or Jesus himself.  How does this remind us of our Baptism?  It is through our Baptism that we are made prophets ourselves, and as a result, may face similar scorn by all except God.

Our second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  He notes carefully that while Christ Jesus was in the form of God, he never sought equality with God.  Rather, as Paul states, “he emptied himself,” to become obedient… to live a life of service to God and others, and from that, become the greatest of us all.  Not only is this meant to remind us how Jesus’ sacrifice is what lead to his greatness, but it’s a guide for all of us to follow.  As Christians we are meant to follow Jesus’ example, to empty ourselves of the mundane and focus on a life of service to others.  Our connection to Baptism rests in the line that “every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”  The very act of Baptism cries this confession.

This takes us to our Gospel, and Matthew’s view of Jesus’ passion and death.  In a way, this Palm Sunday liturgy is a microcosm of what we experience through the liturgies of Holy Week, as we visit again Jesus’ last days through Holy Thursday and Good Friday.  Though we may have heard the story before, it is interesting to note that each of the four Gospels give us unique perspectives that speak to their different audiences.  As we read through Matthew’s account, remember that he is speaking to a primarily Jewish audience.  As such certain details may or may not be included (for instance, no need to explain details of the Passover).  Also find that Matthew has peppered his story with scriptural references, reminding us that the events unfolding before us have been foretold by the prophets, making us witnesses of prophecy being fulfilled.  And what of our connection  to Baptism?  This is made clear as we remembered by Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 6:3), “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”

Final Thoughts:
Palm Sunday marks the transition from Lent to the Triduum, where our reflection on Jesus’ life, passion, and death are intensified.  During Mass we usually read the Passion stories together as a group.  This allows us to put ourselves into the action and better connect with the story by playing the people in the crowd.  Yet that crowd which sang “hosanna” at Jesus entering Jerusalem is the same one we hear yelling out “crucify him!” at his most desperate hour.  We’re never comfortable playing the part of the crowd.  Like Peter, we like to say we would never betray our Lord like that.  Yet we are more like Peter than we want to think.  Every time we deny Christ and his teachings, we are like Peter.  Every time we sin, we are like Peter.  Flawed, scared, human.  The point is not to feel guilty, but to recognize our transgressions for what they are and move on.  To recognize that WE are the crowd.  To seek forgiveness, to find reconciliation.  To give meaning to Jesus’ passion and death by move past it into the light of the Resurrection!

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