Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
This weekend observes Palm Sunday, recalling with such great reverence and intense drama the Lord’s traditional entry into Jerusalem, bringing us into Holy Week.
The liturgy includes two readings from the Gospels. The first occurs at the blessing of the palms, and as the procession of the faithful bearing the palms assembles. It reveals both the Lord’s divine power, seen through Christ’s knowledge that an ass and colt are in the village ahead, and the mission of Jesus as messiah.
Jesus is approaching Jerusalem. More than just a city in pious Jewish minds, Jerusalem is the holiest place, in which God’s temple stands; where David once reigned as king; and where the prophets spoke in the name of God. It was, as it still is, the center of Jewish faith and culture. It was to be the site of the culmination of the Lord’s mission.
The crowd proclaims the Lord as “son of David,” greeting Jesus as their own legitimate king and David’s heir, repudiating the detested Roman emperor. It sets the stage for Good Friday. The Romans allowed no one to shortchange the emperor.
For its next reading, the Church gives us a passage from the third part of Isaiah, one of those eloquent and expressive sections of Isaiah called by biblical scholars the “Songs of the Suffering Servants.” Poetic and descriptive, these four songs laud an unflinchingly faithful servant of God, who despite abuse and persecution remains steadfastly loyal. Christians always have seen Jesus prefigured in these beautiful poems.
In the next reading, from the Epistle to the Philippians, the stress again is on Jesus and again presented in the literary genre of poetry. Experts believe that this passage was an early Christian liturgical hymn. Its deep understanding of the person and place of Christ is clear and compelling.
Finally, the liturgy presents the Passion Narrative of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew’s presentation of Jesus, even in the horrifying circumstances of the Passion, conveys powerful lessons.
First, even at this time, Jesus is the Christ. Far from being overwhelmed and helpless, the Lord is majestic and in control. He is a victim, of course, but completely complying and committed to His mission as the Savior.
While the Apostles do not come across as heroic, to say the least, Jesus never repudiates them. He called them. Despite their fear and cowardice, especially in Peter’s case, their call endures, as the call stands for all called to discipleship. Believers sin and fall, but they can return. Their vocation is not canceled.
Finally, all the intrigue, conspiracy and prejudice that surrounded Jesus fall away before the fact that the Lord triumphs. He is always in control.
Matthew’s Passion Narrative is the centerpiece of this weekend’s Liturgy of the Word. It is easy to lose its deep meaning by concentrating on the awfulness of all that was brought to bear upon Jesus.
Certainly the treachery and cruelty cannot be dismissed or understated. These elements underscore the evil that genuinely exists in the world, and which overtakes many people.
Next week, the Church will celebrate Easter. Jesus rose. Never forget. Even in the dark hours of Good Friday, the Lord was almighty and victorious. Nothing occurred without ultimately lending itself to the fulfillment of the divine plan of salvation.
The praise of the people who acclaimed Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem does not illustrate fickleness just on their part, long ago. We all are fickle.
The reading from Philippians illustrates not only that Jesus is Lord, but that we can be good disciples, even if we fall. Christ awaits us with forgiveness. No sin breaks our relationship with God, unless we choose to reject God ultimately and finally. The Lord, living and victorious, always offers us mercy if simply we ask.
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