Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
This weekend, in a liturgy powerful in its ability to transport us to the momentous events of the first Holy Week, the Church celebrates Palm Sunday.
A procession will precede each Mass, ideally involving the entire congregation, who will carry palms blessed by the celebrants. The procession, the palms and the acclamation of the congregation will recall the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem centuries ago.
Further to impress upon worshippers that arrival, the procession begins with a reading from Mark’s Gospel. This reading notes the coming of Jesus across the Mount of Olives, from Bethany to Jerusalem. He approached Jerusalem from the East, just as the Scriptures had predicted as the route of the Messiah.
He came in humility. Roman leaders would have ridden into the city on horseback or in chariots. Jesus rode a colt. As the Lord would insist days later to Pilate, the Roman governor, the kingdom of God is not of this world.
After this procession, the Liturgy of the Word progresses normally. The first reading is from Isaiah. It is the third “Suffering Servant” song, emphasizing the fictional, unidentified servant’s absolute devotion to God despite all the difficulties and hardships that would come.
The Book of Isaiah has four of these hymns of the Suffering Servant. Each is expressive and moving. Incidentally, Christians always have seen Jesus in this literary figure.
Supplying the second reading is the Letter to the Philippians. Eloquent and most compelling, scholars believe that its origin was liturgical. Early Christians used this hymn in their worship. The hymn is an exclamation of the glory of Christ.
For the Gospel reading in the Liturgy of the Word, the Church this year provides the Passion according to St. Mark.
The care with which each Gospel recalls the passion of the Lord reveals the vital importance that all the Evangelists placed upon the event, but each of the Gospels has its own perception of the passion of Christ.
For Mark, the special point is that the Lord was utterly alone as He faced trial and death. It dramatizes the determination of Jesus in accomplishing God’s will, but also the weakness of human beings, displayed in those who deserted Jesus or who tried the Lord.
Judas’ betrayal, the young man who ran away, Peter’s denial, the inability of the religious scholars to see the Lord’s true identity, the kangaroo court of the Sanhedrin — underscored by the high priest’s utter pragmatism — and the similar Roman governor’s court all were details for Mark about Christ’s majesty and about human frailty.
People know where they were when they first heard about the invasion of the Capitol Jan. 6, or when they learned that hijacked airlines had crashed into the World Trade Center Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. Americans who were alive on Nov. 22, 1963, remember where they were when they heard that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Those alive on Dec. 7, 1941, remember the news about Pearl Harbor. People knew where they were in 1912 when they heard that the British luxury liner, Titanic, the perfection of shipbuilding, had sunk with great loss of life in mid-Atlantic.
It was the same with the Evangelists, as the passion of Jesus impressed itself on their memories. It was so momentous for them. Listen to the reading of the Passion today. Catch Mark’s attention to the event. Ask why it was important for him.
In it, Mark saw the reality of humanity and the gift of salvation. Jesus faced the sin of the world, deserted by frightened, ignorant human beings. He literally died.
Life is not always a bed of roses. We need the Lord. Peace awaits us. Victory awaits us. The Lord rose again.
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