Palm/Passion Sunday: “In this is Love…”

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Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Year C: March 28, 2010

At the Procession with Palms
Luke 19:28-40

Every culture has its customary way of welcoming those that it honors. For the Jewish people in the Holy Land in the first century, a king was welcomed, not by rolling out a red carpet, or running a motorcade, but by placing their own garments under his path; and they waved, not flags or cameras, but branches that they had cut from palms and other trees, which they spread in his path as well [cf. 2 Kgs 9:13; Ps 118:26 in LXX].

Often in the Gospels, we hear that Jesus had urged people not to spread the news that he was the Messiah; because such news could have had an explosive effect. But on Palm Sunday, he threw aside caution to publicly reveal himself. He intentionally fulfilled the prophecies about the Lord entering from the Mount of Olives [Zech 14:4], and the king humbly riding upon the colt of a donkey [Zech 9:9].

His disciples and the crowds responded by crying out, “Hosanna”—which originally had meant “Lord save us,” but had come to mean something like “Long live the king.” They were filled with joy and excitement. At last, the Son of David, their Messiah and King, was publicly entering Jerusalem! At last he would inaugurate his kingdom! “Hosanna”: “Long live the king!”

And they were more right than they even knew. Jesus was a greater king than they realized, and he would inaugurate a greater kingdom. He would defeat their very worst enemies and open the way to a greater salvation. “Hosanna”: “Lord save us!” And our Lord would save us, during that first Holy Week; but at a far greater cost than they imagined.

At the Mass
Isa 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Luke 22:14–23:56

The account of our Lord’s Passion shakes us every time we hear it. It may be that the sight of a crucifix does not shake us anymore. We are so used to seeing them; and so often in our country they do not show blood or wounds, or sometimes even a natural human form, so that we don’t really see our Lord’s body, hanging there on the wall or on jewelry. It is as if the corpus were always covered with a cloth, as it is today, for as much of an impact as it makes on us.

But then the account of his Passion breaks through our numbness and hits us hard. It is a word that rouses us. The Lord had said, through the Prophet Isaiah [52:13-15]: See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted. Even as many were amazed at him—so marred was his look beyond that of man, and his appearance beyond that of mortals—so shall he startle many nations, because of him kings shall stand speechless.

Startled and speechless. So many people have reacted to Christ’s Passion at that level; have reacted, perhaps wanting to strike back at someone. Shamefully, through the centuries, some Christians have taken this as a provocation to attack the Jewish people. But others, like that first thief beside Jesus, are disgusted at what he endured and turn away from him. Or today, people may attack those who tell this story of his Passion: they attack us, who proclaim it and meditate upon it; they attack those who tell it in other ways, such as in movies.

But to strike back is only a superficial reaction. And the Church invites us to enter deeply into this mystery; to meditate upon it, and let it change us and change our relationship with our Lord. And this may occur on at least three levels.

First, in Christ’s suffering we recognize a kinship with our own suffering, and with the suffering of those we love. It was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured [Isa 53:4]. Though he was in the form of God, he emptied himself, coming in human likeness; making himself like us in all things but sin [Council of Chalcedon; CCC 467]. Have you or those you love experienced:

  • being betrayed, denied, hurt, or abandoned by your friends or family?
  • Have you been harshly questioned, or mocked, or verbally abused, even in the midst of your most difficult moments?
  • Have you ever been falsely accused, or unjustly condemned and punished, and pushed about by conflicting political forces?
  • Have you felt yourself in physical pain, perhaps unending pain, even to the point of death?

In Christ’s Passion we see that he also experienced these things. And this was by his choice. We have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our suffering and our weaknesses [Heb 4:15]; because he made our suffering his own.

Secondly, in Christ’s Passion we see the truth of our own sin. Perhaps we look at others around him and see ourselves as similar to Peter, denying him; or Judas, betraying him for silver; or to the disciples, running away; or to Herod, bored and wanting just to be entertained; or Pontius Pilate, who was pressured by others into rendering an unjust verdict; or to the crowds, who preferred a murderer to their Savior; or to the religious and political leaders, who would rather kill Jesus than let him change their lives. Perhaps we see ourselves in one of those people.

But certainly we see Christ’s blood, and his wounds, and his anguish, and the darkness around him. He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins [Isa 53:5]. And so in his suffering we recognize the true horror of our sins, that we have committed, and what we have done through them: to other people; to ourselves; and, above all, to our Lord. And so, let us be moved to sorrow, and to resolve to change our lives, in true repentance.

Third, in Christ’s Passion, we see love: Christ’s overwhelming love for each of us; for you and for me. In the midst of his suffering, caused by our sin, our Lord prayed, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Even as the nail was pounded through his hand: “Forgive them.” Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed [Isa 53:5].

In his love, our Lord created you. In his love, the Son of God emptied himself and became man for you. In his love, he submitted to suffering and death so that he might free you from your sins. In his love, blood and water poured forth from his Sacred Heart so that he might join you to himself. In his love, he gives his own Body and Blood, so that he may nourish you with himself.

Father John Bartunek was a consultant to the movie “The Passion of the Christ”; and he tells the story of the Italian actress who played Veronica. She had been raised Catholic but long before she had stopped practicing her faith. At the time of the filming she felt that she wanted to believe, but that she just couldn’t. And so she filmed her scene, in which she makes her way through the surging crowds to the side of Christ, who has fallen beneath his cross, and she kneels down, and looks into his eyes, and says, “Lord, permit me,” and wipes the blood from his face with her veil.

Because of all the movement of the crowd in that scene, it didn’t work out right away, and they had to re-shoot it again and again. Five times, ten times, she looked into Jesus’ eyes; and something started to melt in her heart. Fifteen times, twenty times: “Lord, permit me,” and wiping the blood from his face, and looking into those loving eyes. And she found: she believed. For a moment, she believed.

Looking into the eyes of our Lord, we see that our sufferings he made his; we see the truth of our sins; and we are touched by his amazing love. But this realization cannot be limited to just a moment. Our Lord invites us forward, to draw closer to him, to once again give our life to him. If you have been away from the sacraments, then I invite you to let this Palm Sunday be the day that you come back to him. Receive his forgiveness and his healing in confession; receive his own Body and Blood in Holy Communion.

St. John wrote to us [1 John 4:10]: In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Don’t leave such love suspended from the cross; don’t leave such love upon this altar. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

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Published in: on March 28, 2010 at 11:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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