Palm and Passion Sunday, Cycle C
Isaiah 50: 4-7; Philippians 2: 6-11; Luke 22:14 - 23:56
This week sees the climax of the mission of Jesus Christ in which the deepest meaning of his life is unfolded and in which his teaching becomes incarnated in his own words and actions.
Today's celebration is divided into two distinct parts: the procession with palms and the Mass proper.
In the first part the prevailing atmosphere is one of joy and the vestments in today's liturgy are a triumphal red and not the violet which has prevailed during the other days of Lent.
The reading from the Gospel in this first part recalls the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as King.
He gets a rapturous reception from the crowd who acclaim him with words we still use in the "Holy, holy, holy...": “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. This scene is important for, in a few days' time, the same triumphant Jesus will be reduced to a battered wreck of humanity, calling forth the words of Pilate: "Look, it is a human being!" (Ecce homo). The same crowd, who on Sunday was acclaiming Him king, will , on Friday, scream violently: “Crucify him !!!”
Although efforts are now made to make the listening of the Passion less of an endurance test, there really is too much to be fully digested as we stand listening to one or three readers. Perhaps we should set aside a short period later in the day to go through the dramatic narration once more. Or perhaps, even better, we could focus on a particular passage which speaks to us more at this time.
And so we have:
- the last meal of Jesus with his disciples, a bitter-sweet experience for all,
- Jesus' struggle with fear (even terror) and loneliness in the garden, ending in a sense of peace and acceptance,
- Peter's denial of ever having known Jesus, the same Jesus with whom he had just eaten and who had invited him into the garden,
- the kiss of Judas, another disciple, sealing the fate of Jesus, and leading to bitter remorse and suicide,
- the rigged trial before the religious leaders and again before the contemptuous, cynical Pilate, the brief appearance before the superstitious and fearful Herod
This is followed by the implementation of the judgment:
- the torture, humiliation and degradation of Jesus,
- the way of Calvary - the weeping women, the reluctant Simon of Cyrene,
- the crowds, so supportive on Sunday, who now laugh and mock,
- the murderous gangster promised eternal happiness that very day,
- the last words of forgiveness and total surrender (emptying) to the Father. "Father, into your hands I surrender my spirit" - and in so surrendering it, he passed on that Spirit to us.
The drama is truly overpowering and needs really to be absorbed, one incident at a time.
It would be worth reflecting in which of these scenes I can see myself, with which characters I can identify as reacting in the way I probably would.
Through it all there is Jesus, the young 33 years old man (God-Man) who changed the history of the whole Universe. So, as we go through this day and this week, let us look very carefully at Jesus our Savior. We watch, not just to admire, but also to learn. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human being to walk on the moon. The American President of that time said: “This was the most important event of the whole history of humanity”. I don’t think so. I think that by entering into this Holy Week we are participating in the most important events of the whole history of humanity.
And we should learn … a lot.