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 occurred, these readings bring us to the heart of the Church’s teaching regarding salvation. Jesus is eternal 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 blessed inevitability, of Providence, surrounded the event. Jesus told Pharisees who objected to it all that even if the disciples were silent, the very stones would proclaim the good news of salvation in Christ. God wills that we have, in Christ, everlasting life.
For the first reading in the Liturgy of the Word, the Church gives us 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? 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. These verses are thought to have been an ancient Christian hymn, used in early liturgies, eloquent in declaring intense faith.
As its last reading, the Church dramatically offers a passage from Luke’s Passion narrative. The very rubrics provide for 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 human 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 so far has been a prelude to these final days in Jerusalem.
Jesus had enemies. People are obtuse; at times devious, even vicious. Still, the love of God will not be thwarted. Salvation will come. It is God’s plan for us.
Few sections of the Scriptures, if any, are as powerful as the four Passion narratives presented to us in the successive Gospels. Luke’s Passion narrative is definitely among these narratives in teaching us and in calling us to Christ.
The first two readings brilliantly focus our minds upon the Redeemer, expected in Third Isaiah, proclaimed in Philippians.
On this Palm Sunday, the crown of the Liturgy of the Word is Luke’s awesome proclamation of the Passion of Jesus. The Church takes us most movingly to the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem. He is destined to redeem the world. In divine Providence, salvation had to come. It was promised. Jesus is king. Some people responded. Others did not, burdened by ignorance, fear, sin or pride.
Finally, the Passion narrative reveals the depth of the Lord’s giving of self, majestic and life-giving despite the intrigue of the trial and the awful crucifixion. Figuratively, because of our sins, we stand with the enemies of Christ, shouting for crucifixion. God nevertheless loves us with a perfect, uncompromising, unending love. He will forgive us, offering us eternal salvation if simply we turn to the Lord with love.
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