Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion


Commentaries on the Readings:  Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56AFTER FIVE WEEKS of preparation we now enter the climax of the Lenten season and what we call Holy Week. In a way, the whole week from today until Easter Sunday should be seen as one unit – the presentation of what we call the Paschal Mystery. This Paschal Mystery includes the sufferings, death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus into glory and the sending of the Spirit on the disciples of Jesus to continue the work he began. Although it is, for liturgical and catechetical reasons, spread over a period of seven weeks, it should also be seen as an indivisible single experience.

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 (for, strange to say, the terrible happenings we are about to listen to are truly a cause for celebration on our part) is divided into two distinct parts: the procession with palms and the Mass proper. (The particular Mass you attend may not include both parts as many parishes will only do the first part at one of the day’s Masses.)

Joy and triumph

In the first part the prevailing atmosphere is one of joy and the vestments in today’s liturgy are a triumphant red and not the violet which has prevailed during the other days of Lent. For 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…” of the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer. 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)

As we process through our church, with our palms (or their equivalent) in our hands, we too sing with enthusiasm: “Christ conquers, Christ is king, Christ is our ruler” (Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat). There is a difference in our case for we know the end of the story and what is to come. Because of that, we sing with even greater conviction about the greatness of Jesus and a realisation of just why he is our King.

But even here there is shadow. For not all are spreading their clothes on the ground for Jesus to walk over or waving their branches. His enemies are watching and what they see only gives greater urgency to their desire to see the end of Jesus. In one way, they will succeed with a frightening ruthlessness to destroy Jesus but, of course, they will also fail utterly. Our presence here today is proof enough of that.

The mind of Christ

In a way the real key to Holy Week is given in today’s Second Reading, which seems to be a hymn, incorporated by Paul in his letter to the Christians at Philippi, in northern Greece. It expresses the “mind,” the thinking of Jesus, a “mind” which Paul urges us to have also if we want to identify fully with Jesus as disciples. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” The key word in the passage is “emptied.” This kenosis (), or emptying, is at the heart of Jesus’ experience during his Passion.

In spite of Jesus’ identity with the nature of God, he did not insist on his status. He first of all took on himself in the fullest sense our human nature – “like us in all things, but sin”. But, even more, he reached down to the lowest level, the lowest class of human beings – the servant, the slave. That was still not the end. He let go of all human dignity, all human rights, let go of life itself to die, not any “respectable” form of death, but the death of a convicted criminal in shame and nakedness and total abandonment.

To understand the sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus one must fully grasp what Paul is saying here and, not only grasp it, but totally appropriate it into one’s own thinking so that one would be prepared, with God’s help, to go exactly the same way. Our normal sensitivities even over trifling hurts just show us how far we have to go to have the “mind of Jesus.”

We are now – hopefully ¬¬– prepared for listening to Luke’s version of the Passion of Jesus, up to but excluding the climax of resurrection.

 So much to reflect on

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 telling more at our leisure. Or perhaps we could focus on a particular passage which speaks to us more at this time.

There is:

– 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

– 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.

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.

 Jesus – the focal point

Through it all there is Jesus. His enemies humiliate him, strike him, scourge him. Soldiers make a crown with thorns, a crown for the “King of the Jews” (an element of contemptuous racism here?), Herod mocks him. Pilate, Roman-trained, makes a half-hearted attempt at justice but fear for his career prevails.

Jesus, for his part, does not strike back, he does not scold, he does not accuse or blame. He begs his Father to forgive those who “do not know what they are doing.”Jesus seems to be the victim but all through he is, in fact, the master. He is master of the situation because he is master of himself.

So, as we go through this day and this week, let us look very carefully at Jesus our Saviour. We watch, not just to admire, but also to learn, to penetrate the mind, the thinking, the attitudes and the values of Jesus so that we, in the very different circumstances of our own lives, may walk in his footsteps.

If we are to be his disciples, he invites us to walk his way, to share his sufferings, to imitate his attitudes, to “empty” ourselves, to live in service of others – in short, to love others as he loves us. This is not at all a call to a life of pain and misery. Quite the contrary, it is an invitation to a life of deep freedom, peace and happiness. If it were anything else, it would not be worth considering.

 

 

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