Readings: Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1-15:47
The Joyful mysteries that blend into the Sorrowful Mysteries, is a phrase that captures best what we celebrate today. On Palm Sunday morning, a 6-year old boy had a bad strep throat, and the family decided that he would stay in bed while the rest of the family went for the Palm Sunday Mass. When the family returned home carrying their palm branches, the boy asked what they were for. His mother explained that people held them over Jesus’ head as he walked by. “Wouldn’t you know it” the boy fumed. “The one Sunday I miss Church, and Jesus shows up!’ Yes, on Palm Sunday Jesus shows up in a dramatic event that opens the Holy Week festivities towards Easter, the prelude to the Holy Triduum. There are three parts in today’s celebration that highlight what we celebrate on Palm Sunday:
First we have the blessing of the palms in the beginning and the solemn procession. The blessing ritual simply makes sacred the natural symbols of palms to assume a religious significance. The celebrant prays, “bless these branches and make them holy.” That also explains the advance choice of a young colt of a donkey that had never been broken which could then be used for religious purposes. Once broken, such an animal would be unclean.
The second part, the procession: the triumphal entry into Jerusalem that blends with the solemn entrance process today, is a prophetic event. The Gospel proclaimed before the process reminds us of the prophecy. We hear that "This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: ‘Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'” The event therefore was not by chance. It was highly symbolic. The Gospel of Matthew refers to Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9 for that prophecy. Jesus chooses to enter the city 4 days before the Passover. Crowds are moving towards the city. As Jesus nears the city gates, more crowds join in and blend into the acclamation. The use of the donkey is also deliberate by Jesus as it was symbolic because it was mounted by kings in processions in times of peace. In this first part of today’s liturgy, Jesus wants to communicate the fulfillment of a prophecy: that he is the promised peace-loving and gentle king who has now come. He is greeted with a well known pilgrim song - psalm 118 “Hosanna (O Lord, give salvation) son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” That was an acclamation to the one who comes to bring salvation from the hands of the Romans, pointing to salvation from everything that oppresses human beings – above all sin. We therefore celebrate prophetically the triumph of Jesus over sin through his death and resurrection that becomes a reality in the Paschal Mystery of Christ.
The third part of Palm Sunday, the Liturgy of the Word, plunges us into the Sorrowful Mysteries of Christ in his Passion and Death. The Passion of our Lord according to St. Mark offers us an opportunity to be with Christ on the way of the cross, starting at the garden of Gethsemani. Yet here at Gethsemani we find those who should have watched with Christ, the disciples asleep, overcome by human weakness. They too run away on seeing Jesus arrested. They all leave Jesus completely abandoned, isolated, tormented and ridiculed as a king. Even at the cross the disciples keep their distance, afraid, and Christ seems to have been abandoned by everybody even his own Father. This isolation is dramatized by the great silence of Jesus throughout the passion story of Mark, except a few words on the cross. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me". The message we take home on this Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord is threefold: 1) the passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ touches us deeply. 2) It moves us to repentance, and prepares us to follow the example of Jesus in which he completely lets go and humbles himself to the point of “assuming the condition of a slave, even accepting death, death on the Cross” for our salvation. 3) Palm Sunday points beyond Good Friday to the resurrection, but reminds us that there can be no resurrection without Good Friday; no Easter joy without entering through the Passion and death of Our Lord, in order to rise with Him on Easter Vigil.
©2015 John S. Mbinda