TEXT: MATT 21:1-11
Every year the Church celebrates Palm Sunday which ends the Lenten Season and marks the beginning of the most Holy week in our Christian Liturgy. It commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. This is a fulfillment of a prophecy spoken by the prophet Zechariah, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”. The donkey in Biblical times was a symbol of peace; those who rode upon them proclaimed peaceful intentions. The laying of palm branches indicated that the king or dignitary was arriving in victory or triumph. As Jesus began His exuberant entrance into Jerusalem, many people gathered on the road and spread their clothes in front of him and shout Hosanna.
In the Palm Sunday procession we join with the crowd of disciples who in festive joy accompany the Lord during his entry into Jerusalem. Like them, we praise the Lord with a loud voice for all the miracles we have seen, how he gives men and women the courage to oppose violence and deceit, to make room for truth in the world; to bring about reconciliation where there had been hatred and to create peace where enmity had reigned. Let us now with enthusiasm go forth in peace, praising Jesus our Messiah, and welcoming him to the holy city of the Jerusalem!
HOMILY FOR THE PASSION SUN YRA
TEXTS: ISA 50:4-7; PHIL 2: 6-11; MATT 26:14–27:66
Today we focus intently on the heart of the mystery of Salvation. It is the mystery of dying and rising, the mystery of humiliation and exaltation. Today’s liturgy prepares us specially for the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Liturgy gives the picture of Joy and at the same time invites us to meditate on his sufferings. What Jesus experiences for us is a manifestation of God’s overwhelming love for each one of us. Further, by our identifying ourselves with the ‘mystery’ of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection we ourselves experience a great liberation, a ‘Passover’ from various forms of sin and enslavement to a life of joy and freedom. Hence today’s liturgy combines both a sense of triumph and tragedy. Very importantly, we are reminded at the beginning, that we are about to commemorate the triumph of Christ our King. We do this through the blessing of palms, the procession and the joyful singing. And the celebrant wears red vestments. We need to keep this in mind as we proceed in the second half to hear the long tale of the sufferings and indignities to which Jesus was subjected. Very soon it will be difficult to recognize our King in the battered, scourged, crowned-with-thorns, crucified remnant of a human being.
Isaiah prophesied that the Chosen Servant, the Messiah, would freely accept His sufferings and death so He would not be put to shame. Here the prophet meditates on his sufferings and the price of fidelity to God. The servant is specially chosen to proclaim the divine message which would rouse their hearts to God. For the sake of the word of God the Servant has to suffer. He says that he gave his back to those who beat him and he did not hesitate to receive any insult for his sake. The prophet then shows the hope and confidence of the chosen servant. He says that the Lord is his help and therefore in spite of the sufferings he is not disgraced. He knows that he specially loved by God and will not be put to shame.
St. Paul in the second reading confirmed this, that Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. We are called to imitate Jesus, His humility and abasement as a model of conduct that should be found in the faith community. In His Divine incarnation, He humbled Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. Jesus did not empty Himself of His Divinity but He voluntarily gave up the Divine glory to which He was entitled, a glory that would be restored at His exaltation. It is God who exalted him to the highest of places and on earth there is the religious adoration at the name of Jesus, that every knee should bend, in Heaven and on earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The Gospel of today taken from Matthew that gives us an account of the Passion of the Lord, from the Last Supper up to his death on the cross and burial in a borrowed tomb. The narrative places before us various events that took place and the sufferings he endured. We have the institution of the Eucharist, where he shares himself with his disciples and tells them to do in his memory. We heard of the betrayal of Judas, of Jesus loving him till the last moment, the foretelling of Peter’s denial, the praying of Jesus in Gethsemane and of His arrest. Then there was the appearance of Jesus before the high priest, Peter’s denial, Jesus before Pilate, the death of Judas, Pilate questioning Jesus about his teaching and his kingship. The people were given a choice between Barabbas and Jesus and we heard how a criminal being preferred for a just man. Pilate finally hands over Jesus to be crucified. The solders then took him beat him as the routine was and spend time mocking Jesus. There is the cruel way of the cross where Jesus carrying his cross goes through all public places to be mocked and insulted. He was helpless and no one could come close to him or help him. His own disciples had left him and run away. Finally he was crucified on Golgotha, nailed and hung on the cross between two thieves. He was insulted by all people, by those who crucified him and by those who were crucified with him. Finally he died on the cross and was laid in a borrowed tomb.
1. Holding palm branches in our hands is a sign that we are willing to walk with Jesus in both his passion and in his triumph. Though the word ‘passion’ here refers to Jesus’ suffering, in English language it also means a strong feeling or commitment for something. Jesus had so much passion for life, truth, justice and service to the needy that he had to pay the price of his Passion, and sacrifice his life for these values by dying a shameful death. If we try to imitate the same passion which he had, it may also lead us to our own ‘passion’ and cross of opposition, criticism, insult, rejection, or even fear of suspension from job, threat to life, etc. The question is whether we are willing to take up these crosses and walk with him to ‘Jerusalem,’ or evade these crosses totally by taking a comfortable position.
2. Today’s two-in-one liturgy of Palm and Passion Sunday presents to us two contradictory aspects of our lives: joys and sorrows, triumph and pain. We have our moments of joy, triumph and victory: when we are successful and elated; everything sails smoothly; our wishes are fulfilled; our jobs are secure; There are also times when people acclaim, applaud, praise, honour and encourage us. This is like singing hosannas to us as people did to Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. Then there is the other side of the coin – our moments of sorrows and agonizing passion. There are times when we go through what Jesus went through in Jerusalem: betrayal, denial, indifference, mockery, loneliness, rejection, false accusation, unjust treatment, insults, humiliation, mental and physical agony, torture and shameful death. What a consolation and encouragement to know that Jesus bore all the suffering and evil which we human beings undergo and to believe that he is with us whenever these things happen to us.
3. The world shuns the way of the cross and proposes the way of vanity, pride, achievement, power and wealth as the only things that matter. In spite of allurements of the world, we are inspired by the example of so many of our ordinary Christian brothers and sisters who remain faithful to Christ, and make sacrifices to serve the sick, the disabled, the needy quietly and silently.
May Christ Jesus be a source of grace and strength for us when we have to face our individual passions.
Have a Spirit-filled Holy Week ahead.
Peace be upon You!