This weekend, in a liturgy majestic in its ability to transport us to the events of the day that began the first Holy Week, the Church celebrates Palm Sunday.
First of all, a procession will precede each Mass, ideally involving the entire congregation, who will carry palms blessed by the celebrants. These palms will recall similar branches used to acclaim the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem centuries ago.
As if to set the stage for Holy Week, the procession begins with a reading from Mark’s Gospel. This reading recalls 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 would be the route of the Messiah.
Jesus came in humility. Roman leaders would have ridden into the city on stately horseback or in chariots. Jesus rode a colt. Days later, the Lord would insist to Pilate, the Roman governor, the kingdom of God is not of this world.
After this procession, the Liturgy of the Word will continue. The first reading is from Isaiah, the third “Suffering Servant” song, emphasizing the fictional 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. They are most expressive and moving. Christians always have seen Jesus in this literary figure.
Supplying the second reading is the Epistle 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.
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. Judas’ betrayal, the young man who ran away, Peter’s denial, the failure of the religious scholars to recognize the Lord’s true identity, the crowd’s hysteria, and the injustice of the kangaroo court, all were important details for Mark.
On trial, Jesus stood willingly helpless before Pilate, the representative of the pagan Roman Empire, earthly power at its zenith.
The “Suffering Servant” song exemplifies Jesus, innocent and good, confronted with human sin and death.
This Gospel is a wonderful prelude to the story of the Resurrection to be told on Easter.
People always tell where they were when they first heard of the horrible collisions of hijacked planes with 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 hearing the first reports about Pearl Harbor.
Everyone recalls when he or she heard that something extraordinary, happy or not, had occurred to them or to someone near and dear to them; a death, a birth, a promotion, a bad diagnosis.
Thus it was, not surprisingly, with the Evangelists. They vividly remembered the passion of Jesus, what they saw, or perhaps what they heard from actual witnesses. Their careful reconstructions of Holy Week in the Gospels show this. Why? The events were so critical.
Today, in this imposing proclamation, Mark’s Gospel reveals that Jesus faced the sin of the world alone. His fate belonged to him.
Each Christian is in a similar situation. The Church bluntly reminds us that individually we must choose God or not, good or evil, life or death. We must follow Jesus to Calvary. Easter will remind us that new life awaits the faithful.
Palm Sunday begins the Church’s most profound lesson about our reality.
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.