The Church this weekend leads us to the climax of Lent, the observance of Holy Week, by offering the impressive liturgy of Palm Sunday.
Recalling the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, for Luke the utter apex of the entire ministry of the Lord since in Jerusalem the Crucifixion and Resurrection would occur, these readings bring us to the heart of the Church’s teaching regarding salvation. Jesus is Lord and Savior.
When the palms are blessed, and the solemn procession, ideally of all in the congregation forms, the Church offers us a reading from Luke. This reading recalls the plans for the arrival of Jesus in the Holy City 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. God wills that we have in Christ eternal life.
For the first reading in the Liturgy of the Word, the Church gives us the third of the four “Songs of him Suffering Servant” from the third section of Isaiah. Scholars debate the identity of this servant. Was he a prophet? 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 second reading is from Philippians. It is thought to be an ancient Christian hymn, used in early liturgies, compelling in its eloquence and in its intense faith.
As the last reading, the Church dramatically offers a reading of Luke’s Passion Narrative. The very rubrics provide the congregation to be involved.
Each Gospel contains a highly detailed and lengthy account of the trial and execution of Jesus. Each evangelist was an individual person who had his own insights into what happened on the first Good Friday.
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 bears eternal life. He makes all things right. He seeks out the wayward and the despondent. He reconciles sinners with God. All this is completed in the Lord’s sacrificial death on Calvary, so everything is prelude to those final days in Jerusalem.
Human nature is human nature. People are obtuse, at times 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.
Few sections of the Scriptures are as powerful as the four Passion Narratives presented to us in the successive Gospels. Luke’s Passion Narrative is definitely among these in its capacity to teach us and to call us to Christ.
On Palm Sunday, the crown of the Liturgy of the Word is the awesome proclamation of the Passion of Jesus as understood by St. Luke. The Church takes us most movingly to the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem. He is destined to redeem the world. Salvation had to come. Such was God’s will and God’s love. Some cooperated, some did not, burdened by their ignorance or pride.
The readings from Third-Isaiah and Philippians further focus our minds upon Jesus. He is Lord!
Finally, magnificently, the Passion Narrative reveals of the depth of the Lord’s giving of Self despite the intrigue of the trial and the awfulness of the crucifixion. We are flawed by our own sin. Figuratively, because of our sins, we stood with the enemies of Christ. God nevertheless loves us with a perfect, uncompromising, unending love. He will not be deterred in giving us salvation if simply we love in return.
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