Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ
March 28, 2021
All is ready now for the final days of our Lenten journey with Jesus. The drama of the Paschal Mystery will be re-enacted once again in parishes throughout the world ~ with limited attendance because of the Pandemic but people can pick up their blessed palms at some other time, and I’m sure many others will be watching streamed Masses from home as they’ve become accustomed to this past year.
I have loved the liturgy of Holy Week since I was a boy and in this blog I hope I can share that love with you. We’ll go deep here. Please take time to reflect. Come with me now, won’t you?
Jesus entered the holy city Jerusalem on a humble beast of burden ~ himself burdened with the sins of the world. Here’s the gospel story according to Mark . . .
When Jesus and his disciples drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately on entering it, you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone should say to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ reply, ‘The Master has need of it and will send it back here at once.'” So they went off and found a colt tethered at a gate outside on the street, and they untied it. Some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They answered them just as Jesus had told them to, and they permitted them to do it. So they brought the colt to Jesus and put their cloaks over it. And he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. Those preceding him as well as those following kept crying out: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:1-10)
As William Barclay notes, the great Presbyterian scripture scholar I’ve been referencing, what Jesus was about to do was a deliberate, planned action on his part, this would begin the last act in the drama of his life. The whole city of Jerusalem was awash with visitors in preparation for the Passover.
Barclay also notes that thirty years later a Roman governor had taken a census of the number of lambs slain for Passover and noted that number to be about a quarter of a million. Now, Passover regulation stated that a party of a minimum of ten are required for each lamb which meant that there were about two and a half million people in Jerusalem at the time Jesus entered the holy city!
The crowd receives Jesus like a king. They spread their cloaks in front of him. They cut down and waved palm branches (and that is why we bless and distribute palms and this day is known universally as Palm Sunday.)
Barclay notes they greeted him as they would a pilgrim, “Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord.”
They shouted, “Hosanna!” The word means, “Save now!” as well as “praise.” and that was a cry that a people addressed to their king or their god. (Interesting ~ I wasn’t aware of that.)
So, we see that Jesus action here was planned and deliberate, similar to those of the prophets of old who would put their message into a dramatic act that people could not fail to see or understand. Jesus action here was clearly a Messianic claim, or at least when a few days later he would be the cleanser of the Temple, an even more dramatic act in which he was to rid the Temple of the abuses that defiled it and its worship.
To conclude, then, Barclay had made three points about this story . . .
+ It shows Jesus’ courage. He knew he was entering a hostile city. All through his last days, in his every action is there is a “magnificent and sublime defiance”~”a flinging down the gauntlet.”
+ It shows us his claim to be God’s Messiah, God’s Anointed One. And the cleanser of the temple.
+ It shows us his appeal ~ not a kingship of the throne, but a kingship of the heart.
In today’s liturgy, when the procession reaches the altar inside the church, and the people settle into the pews, the mood of the liturgy radically changes . It becomes somber as the ministers at the altar and the congregation prepare for the solemn reading of the long reading of the Passion ~ this year from the Gospel of Mark, that’s usually proclaimed with several voices. But I’d like to reflect a moment on the New Testament reading from Philippians 2:1-11 that precedes it:
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Johannes Metz wrote a little book Poverty of Spirit, in which he says . . .
Have we really understood the impoverishment that Christ endured?
Everything was taken from him during the passion, even the love that drove him to the cross . . .
His heart gave out and a feeling of utter helplessness came over him. Truly he emptied himself . . . He became utterly poor. [Thus] he accepted our humanity, he took on and endured our lot, he stepped down from his divinity.
He came to us where we really are ~ with all our broken dreams and lost hopes, with the meaning of existence slipping through our fingers. He came and stood with us, struggling with his whole heart to have us say ‘yes’ to our innate poverty. [God’s faithfulness] to us is what gives us the courage to be true to ourselves. And the legacy of God’s total commitment to humankind, the proof of God’s fidelity to our poverty, is the Cross.
[The Cross is the sacrament, the sign] that one human being remained true to his own humanity, that he accepted it in full obedience.”
Thus each of us has the opportunity to embrace our poverty, or as I have been saying in Arise for the past two years we have the opportunity to accept whatever brokenness shows up in our own lives and find the treasure buried within. But this goes against the grain for us in American life. We are told to keep up with the Jones’s. And so we strive for power, prestige, possessions.
“Poverty of spirit is the meeting point of heaven and earth, the mysterious place where God and humanity encounter each other, the point where infinite mystery meets concrete existence.”
And here is my prayer . . . .
Lord Jesus, here we are at the beginning of Holy Week once again.
We raise our palms,
Lord Jesus, here we are, once again, singing our Hosannas!
We listen to the story of your sacred passion and death.
And now we learn that You really meant it!
You weren’t just pretending to be human;
You immersed Yourself in our misery,
You got down in the muck with us
~ accepting it all, even death on a cross.
Jesus, help us to embrace our humility,
our poverty, our brokenness, our share in Your cross.
May this Holy Week truly be holy for us
so that we too will rise again with You to new life
To You, Lord Jesus, be glory and honor forever! Amen.
Before you go, dear friends, here is a section of Handel’s Messiah appropriate for this day “He was despis-ed.” Click here. Have a fruitful Holy Week. I will publish again throughout the week.
Here are the today’s Mass readings. Click here. I encourage you to prayerfully read the entire passion story according to Mark.
Acknowledgements Johannes Baptist Metz Poverty of Spirit / Translated by John Drury / Paulist Press / New York / Mahwah, NJ / 1968, 1998
William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Mark/ The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975