Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ
April 2nd, 2023
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 Christian churches throughout the world. 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? !
So join me reverently here and enter into Jesus’s last days as best we can . . . .
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 (from Matthew 21:1-11 from Year A) that precedes the blessing of palms and the procession into the church . . . .
When Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me. And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, ‘The master has need of them.’ Then he will send them at once.” This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled: Say to daughter Zion, “Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them. The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?” And the crowds replied, “This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
William Barclay, the Presbyterian scripture scholar , notes, that what Jesus was about to do was a deliberate, planned action on his part: He would begin the last act in the drama of his life; that this was not a spur of the moment decision. He had told his disciples exactly where to find the ass and the colt; they were waiting for him.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem, and was to be acknowledged as king. He came humbly riding on an ass. Barclay says we must be careful to see the real meaning of this. In western lands the ass ( a donkey–a beast of burden) is a despised beast; but in the east the ass could be a noble animal. Often a king came riding into his city upon an ass, indicating that he came in peace. The horse was the mount of war. Jesus showed that he came not to destroy, but to love; not to condemn, but to help, not in the might of arms, but in the strength of love.
The whole city of Jerusalem was awash with visitors in preparation for the Passover at this moment. Barclay also notes that thirty years later a Roman governor had taken a census of the number of lambs slain for Passover and found the number to be about a quarter of a million. Now, Passover regulations stated that a party with a minimum of ten people were 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.)
They greeted him as they would a pilgrim, Barclay notes: “Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord.”
They shouted, “Hosanna!” The word means,“Save now!” and that was a cry that a people addressed to their king or their god.
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 dramatically. It becomes somber as the ministers at the altar and the congregation prepare for the solemn reading of the Passion—this year from the Gospel of Matthew, 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 because it captures the essence of the meaning of this day . . . .
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 own poverty, or as I had been saying in myArise letter before the pandemic, 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 ‘Joneses ‘.And so we strive for power, prestige, or possessions, or all three.
“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 now, here’s my prayer . . . .
Lord Jesus, here we are at the beginning of Holy Week once again.
As we wave our palms this year,
we’re here, trying to be faithful to you as best we can.
We will try to read the story of your sacred passion and death so that we can understand and accept more fully how much you loved us
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 that we too will rise again with You to new life
and receive anew the gift of the Spirit.
To You, Lord Jesus, be glory and honor forever! Amen.
Before you go, dear friends, here is a beautiful song, The Power of the Cross. Click Here. Be sure to enter full screen.
Have a fruitful Holy Week. I will publish again throughout the week, beginning tomorrow morning .
I encourage you to prayerfully read the entire passion story according to Matthew. I have also provided you a commentary on this gospel (and also the other readings), if you’d like to reflect on them further. Click here.
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 Matthew- Volume 2 The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975 / pp. 238 – 243.