Palm Sunday — By Fr. Rich

FrRichWebOur Lenten journey brings us yet again to the outskirts of Jerusalem. “The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road… and those following kept crying out and saying: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.’ …the whole city was shaken and asked, ‘Who is this?’… ‘This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.'” Matthew 21:8-11

How can we not join the city in joyful celebration as we acknowledge the presence of our Lord? How can we not speak of this triumphant entry into Jerusalem? If we fail to offer praise and glory to our God, Jesus himself offers this observation, “He said in reply, ‘I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!'” Luke: 19:40

Regardless of the number of times that we experience this account, Luke’s words should bring us to that moment in time, should inspire us to shout with the witnesses of long ago, Hosanna! Hosanna!!

How can we not speak of the Passion of Jesus Christ? From the scene in the upper room, where Jesus offers his Body and Blood as a gift to His followers and to us? How can we not share the sadness in Jesus’ heart as He challenges Peter’s proclamation, “Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you!” (Luke 22:33), with the prophecy of the denial that is to come? How can it not challenge us to seek forgiveness for the times that we have somehow denied Jesus’ presence in our lives?

No matter how many times I read about the agony in the garden, my heart aches for the desolation that Christ must have felt in those moments,  submitting His will to the Father’s, for us, for our redemption. It is hard for me to imagine that “He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground” (Luke 22:44). The profound sense of loss and sadness when one of His chosen disciples, Judas, betrays Him with a kiss; it must have only added to that agony.

The action flows quickly, changing scenes from Pilate to Herod and back to Pilate, Christ being subjected to abuse and humiliation, and the stoicism, the quiet acknowledgement of his divinity with which He responded.

The disciples have fled or denied Him. I often wonder what I would have done. I, of course, would like to picture myself as a staunch follower, getting as near as I could to let Jesus know that He was not alone. More likely I, too, would have fled in terror.

I’ve always admired Simon of Cyrene, unwillingly, unwittingly, becoming the one man who would assist the Christ in the final moments of the Sacrifice. For me he stands for all people, as we are called to assist those around us to carry their crosses.

Crucifixions are messy, noisy affairs. Steel hitting steel into wood, blood everywhere, screams of agony — except today. Today, the crowd hears, we hear, the Victim’s murmur: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). How can we stand unmoved, no matter how many times we hear this account?

Even on the altar of Sacrifice, Jesus continues to offer mercy to those who seek it, redeeming the thief, and us, with His dying breaths. And then finally, the Victim “cried out in a loud voice, “‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’; and when he had said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23:42).

And if you are like me, you weep, again. Confronted with Jesus’ sacrifice, His overarching love, His submission of will to the Father, His gift to us, how can we ever tire of experiencing this Passion, this Palm Sunday?