Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Palm Sunday Year A

Readings: Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Matt 26:14-27.66

Joyful entry into Jerusalem; dramatic passion and death on the Cross; pointing to the resurrection. These phrases sum up the message of Palm Sunday. It is the prelude to the Holy Triduum –Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil. There are two parts in today’s celebration that highlight what we celebrate on Palm Sunday: First of all is the blessing of the palms at the beginning, followed by the solemn procession. This part highlights the Joyful Mysteries of Christ. 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.” The procession and triumphal entry into Jerusalem is a prophetic event. The Gospel proclaimed after the procession 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.'" The event therefore was not just by chance; it is also highly symbolic. 

The Gospel of Matthew refers to the prophecies of Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9. Jesus chooses to enter the city 4 days before the Passover. In this first part of today’s liturgy, Jesus communicates the fulfillment of a prophecy: that he is the promised peace-loving and gentle king, who has now come as prophesied. He is greeted with a well known pilgrim psalm 118 “Hosanna 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 rulers, 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 second 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 that we hear today is already prophesied in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah where he gives us a glimpse of what the messenger of the Lord will undergo. He will pay a heavy price and suffer both physical and personal insults. He will be beaten, his beard plucked and spat upon. Psalm 22 blends well with the theme of the passion of the Lord, unfolding the drama of Christ’s suffering. The psalmist uses graphic metaphors to describe the bystanders in terms of ravenous thieves ready to strip him of his clothes, but neither mockery nor suffering will undermine his purpose and hope. All three readings today clearly points to the Good Friday events through which we enter into a drama of cosmic proportions. This drama has an interesting cast of characters with Christ in the center stage. Whether we like or not, you and I are much part of this drama of human sinfulness that condemns Jesus to a violent death on the cross. We are part of the crowd that cries loudly, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” So what message do we take home on Palm Sunday? On this final Sunday of Lent, as we enter into the Sacred time of Holy Week, we are invited to reflect on what Jesus means in our lives. Yes, we recognize him as our Savior, but we need to look at him more closely this time to discover just what kind of a Savior He is. Jesus takes the form of a slave, yet glorified with a name above all other names; He is an example of humility and self-offering, particularly suffering for others especially those who identify with his suffering: the poor, the humiliated, those stripped of their clothes and food taken off their tables; those disposed and marginalized; the abused and the ridiculed for no other reason except their creed and skin color. The core of the message of Palm Sunday is the following: 1) if you and I are to be saved, we must go where salvation takes place, on our streets and homes and where violence rages at 2 a.m. in the dark corners of society, where despair and apathy hold sway daily; where the innocent are abused and the needy neglected; we must go where there is misunderstanding, fear and jealousy; we must touch the untouchable and do the unthinkable. In brief, we must go where Christ emptied himself for our sake; we must go to the Cross to encounter Christ in the suffering of many. 2) The passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ must touch us deeply; it must move us to repentance, and prepares us to follow the path that Jesus takes as He completely 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, and reminds us that there can be no resurrection without Good Friday, without entering through the Passion and death of Our Lord, in order to rise with Him into the newness of life.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

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