Palm Sunday: Responding to the passionate love of Christ

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Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, Year C:
March 24, 2013

At the Procession with Palms
Luke 19:28-40

For all the mighty deeds they had seen… his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy.

For some three years, Jesus’ disciples had traveled with him. They had listened to his wise and powerful words; they had seen his miraculous deeds, healing and feeding and freeing; they had experienced his love, for them and for others.

And now they saw him approaching Jerusalem as a benevolent king. The crowd acclaimed him as such with their words: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” And they gave him a royal welcome, by spreading their cloaks across his path.

No wonder the disciples couldn’t hold it in! They knew the goodness of their Lord Jesus; and now they saw him being recognized by the crowds as Messiah, and welcomed, into the city and into their hearts. Such joy has to be expressed! As Jesus said to the Pharisees, “If they keep silent, the stones will cry out!”

So let us too raise our voices in joyful praise: Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

At the Mass
Isa 50:4-7; Ps 22; Phil 2:6-11; Luke 22:14–23:56

The account of the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ always affects us deeply. It is a familiar story: for we know the various persons and events, their words and actions. But we know it even more deeply than this; we recognize its elements within our own lives; and so perhaps it becomes all the more striking the more familiar it becomes: the interplay of love and hatred, of truth and lies, of greed and power and suffering, of fear and loss and pain; of generosity and faithfulness, of betrayal and death.

At the center of it all is our Lord Jesus Christ, who is loving with all the strength of his Sacred Heart. And in the midst of the churning of events, we see that he is reaching out, to person after person, looking into each person’s eyes, seeking to make a connection with them, seeking a personal response in kind.

At the beginning of the Last Supper, we heard him say to his disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you.” Eagerly desired!

Just four days earlier, when he entered Jerusalem in triumph, immediately after the Gospel reading that we heard at the beginning, he saw the city and wept over it (19:41); as he had earlier said,

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling! (13:34)

He loved St. Peter, and prayed that his faith might not fail. For he knew, although Peter had said bravely that he was prepared to go to prison and to die with him, when push came to shove he would deny three times that he even knew him.

He loved Judas, one of his own disciples, who he knew would betray him. And when the moment of betrayal came in the Garden, he identified him with a kiss: what should have been a sign of affection and friendship turned into something far darker and horrible.

In the midst of accusations and questions, we find our Lord tugging at people’s hearts. “Are you then the Son of God?” “You say that I am.” “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You say so.” Look at yourself, and what you have just said about me. What do you believe about me? You have said this with your lips; do you know it in your heart? Are you ready to look into my eyes and make a connection with me?

One is. When our Lord is upon the cross, person after person shouts, “Save yourself.” “Let him save himself.” “Save yourself and us.” —when saving us is exactly why he is hanging there suffering! And these shouts seek to push him away, into isolation. But one makes the connection: one of the criminals hanging there beside him, who says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And there it is: the response of faith. The response of faith to Jesus’ initiative, to Jesus’ love, to Jesus’ suffering; the response of faith that opens the heart, if only just a little bit, to let in the love that is pouring forth from our Lord’s Sacred Heart. And that is all he needs: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Our Lord Jesus hung upon the cross, his arms outstretched between heaven and earth, reaching out to his Father, whom he asked to forgive us; and reaching out to us, ready to draw us close, if only we will let him. Will we let him? Will we return love for love? Will we respond, “Jesus, remember me“? Yes, Lord, I believe?

At this Mass, as at every Mass, our Lord Jesus makes himself present to us, in his one perfect sacrifice, in his Passion and death and resurrection: all for us. He stretches out his arms, he pours out his heart; he says, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you.” And you? What will you say?

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