We are beginning Holy Week with the Palm Sunday liturgies, coming to the fulfillment of the Lenten season and drawing us face to face to the ultimate reality of salvation, that Jesus, the Son of God, died to reconcile us with the Father and then forever opened for us the gates to heaven by the Resurrection.
Palm Sunday of course recalls the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, for the Evangelist Luke, the utter apex of the entire ministry of the Lord.
In general, Luke’s Gospel sees Jesus as the embodiment of God’s mercy, literally God in human flesh, the Son of Mary, a woman, not an angel or a goddess. Jesus seeks out the wayward and the despondent. Everything leads to the fulfillment of reconciling sinners with God. Thus, everything occurs on the way to Jerusalem, which Jesus visits once, and on this one visit Jesus is sacrificed on Calvary and then rises again.
For Catholics, the depth of meaning of this event is brilliantly conveyed in the majesty and drama of the liturgy.
As the palms are blessed, and then ideally all in the congregation process, the Church offers us a reading from Luke. This reading recalls the plans for the arrival of Jesus as well as the arrival itself.
An element of inevitability, of Providence, surrounds the event. Jesus tells Pharisees who object to it all that even if the disciples were silent, the very stones would shout the good news of salvation in Christ.
Later, in the first reading, the Church presents the third of the four “Songs of the Suffering Servant” from the third section of Isaiah. Scholars debate the identity of this servant. Was he a prophet? The author? A collective symbol for the people of Israel? In any case, Christians have always seen in these songs the image of the innocent, constantly loyal servant of God, the Lord Jesus.
The Epistle to the Philippians. Scholars think that the reading is an ancient Christian hymn, used in early liturgies. Its eloquence magnificently reveals intense faith.
As the last reading, the Church dramatically offers a reading of Luke’s Passion narrative. To enhance the occasion, the congregation most often becomes involved.
Each Gospel contains a highly detailed and lengthy account of the trial and execution of Jesus. Each has its own perspective, as each evangelist was an individual person who had his own insights into what happened on the first Good Friday.
By contrast, people usually are obtuse and often devious, even vicious. Still, the love of God will not be thwarted. Salvation will come, because it is God’s will that salvation will come.
No biblical reading is as powerful and overwhelming as are the four Passion narratives in the successive Gospels. Luke’s Passion narrative is no exception.
At the blessing of the palms, the Church prepares us, again employing Luke’s Gospel, for this proclamation.
Recalling the entry into Jerusalem by Jesus, the Church presents the Lord as resolute. Salvation was God’s will, the product of God’s love for us. Some people cooperated. Some did not, burdened by ignorance or pride.
The readings from the third chapter of Isaiah and Philippians focus our minds upon Jesus. He is Lord!
Finally, magnificently, the Passion narrative tells us of the depth of the Lord’s giving of self. God loves us with a perfect, uncompromising, unending love. Sin flaws us. It can doom us. We need God. God responds by satisfying our need for true life. The key, hopefully refined in Lent, is for us to love God in return.
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