Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
1) Is 50:4-7
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24
2) Phil 2:6-11
Gospel: Mt 26:14 — 27:66 or 27:11-54
On this Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, we enter the holiest of weeks in the church’s liturgical year. This is the high point of the church’s cycle of feasts and fasts during which the mystery of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection unfold as the pattern of our life as Christians.
So while Jesus’ betrayal, sufferings, death by crucifixion and glorious rising on the third day are the focus of liturgical celebrations and meditation during Holy Week, our participation in faith in these sacred mysteries is equally important.
For the events of Holy Week are meant to change us from the inside out, to make us a new creation as we journey with Jesus through his passion, death and resurrection to new life in him by the power of the Holy Spirit.
A disciple of Jesus cannot remain an outside observer or sideline spectator to the events of Holy Week. For Jesus is offering to each one of us the mystery of participating in his own outpouring of divine love and mercy as 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,” as we read in Philippians.
The first reading and Gospel preview the events of the triduum, the sacred days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. There are many figures who fade in and out of the dramatic account of Jesus’ betrayal, suffering, crucifixion and death. Each of them has something important to teach.
There are the fickle crowds who welcome Jesus as he enters Jerusalem. They spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road as they cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” Soon after the same crowd will chant a song of hate, demanding that Jesus, the innocent one, be condemned to death. They remind us of the shifting sands of public opinion and worldly wisdom, here today and gone tomorrow.
There is Judas, ready to betray his master for 30 pieces of silver, a reminder of the material things that continue to absorb our lives at the expense of God. Then there is Peter, swearing fidelity to Jesus and then denying he knew Jesus a few hours later, a reminder of daily betrayals we experience or impose on others.
Then there is Pilate, the governor of Judea, torn between the demands of his conscience and the bloodthirsty crowd as he seeks to preserve his political power, reminding us that earthly ambition leads eventually to downfall. And there is Mary, the mother of Jesus, who participates in her son’s sufferings, a model disciple to the end.
At the center of the drama is Jesus, humble, obedient to his heavenly father, and willingly ready take on our sins so we can be reconciled to friendship with God.
On Holy Thursday, the church commemorates the institution of the Eucharist when Jesus feeds his disciples with the spiritual food of his body and blood as a visible, sacramental sign of the offering of his body and blood on the cross. With eucharistic amazement, we journey with Jesus through his passion, death and resurrection to the glorious moment when we pray joyfully with Easter faith, “speak to me, Lord.”
How will you journey with Jesus during Holy Week?
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Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.