16 March: Palm Sunday Year A
Readings: Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27.66
It was Palm Sunday, and the family's 6-year old son had to stay home from church because of strep throat. When the rest of the family returned home carrying palm branches, the little boy asked what they were for. His mother explained, "People held them over Jesus' head as he walked by." "Wouldn't you know it," the boy fumed. "The one Sunday I don't go to church, and Jesus shows up!
A triumphal entry into Jerusalem by Jesus becomes prophetic: the one who enters the city in triumph is the same one who is led out of the city by crowds to be crucified. That is what we celebrate and commemorate on Palm Sunday - the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. This is where Jesus will accomplish the Paschal mystery through his passion, death and resurrection. The Palm Sunday procession opens the Holy Week festivities towards Easter. The procession proclaims Jesus, who through his death returns into the glory of the Father. As we carry green branches and joyfully acclaim Jesus, we become part of the crowd accompanying Jesus on his prophetic entry into Jerusalem in order to pass from this world to the Father. We thus become part of the pilgrim people of God on their way to the New Jerusalem. There are two sides of the Palm Sunday liturgy: the joyful mystery and the sorrowful mystery. There is the joyful entry into Jerusalem and the immanent passion and death on the cross. The one who is joyfully acclaimed is the same one who is soon to be condemned by the crowd to die on the cross for our sins. Thus Jesus becomes a perfect model of what our journey of faith must finally involve - being humiliated, persecuted to the point of accepting death on the cross, so that God may raise us up on the last day.
In the Passion of our Lord according to Matthew, we encounter a drama of cosmic proportions with an interesting cast of characters, Jesus being at the center stage. As we listen to the passion this Sunday, we could ask ourselves which characters we most identify with. There is Judas Iscariot betraying Jesus; Peter who denies ever knowing Jesus then repents; Pilate washes his hands to get out of trouble; and Barabas is preferred over Jesus who is innocent. There are also the chief priests and the Sanhedrin looking for evidence against Jesus; the crowd shouting, "let him be crucified", and later the soldiers mock Jesus as he dies on the cross. Whether we like it or not, we are part of this drama of human sinfulness that condemned Jesus to a violent death on the cross. We are part of the crowd that cried loudly: “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” One message is clear on this Sunday for us all: the passion of Christ must touch us deeply, move us to repentance, and prepare us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, emptying ourselves and "assuming the condition of a slave…even accepting death…death on the cross".
©2008 John S. Mbinda