This Sunday is often referred to as Palm Sunday, but more completely it is Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. The triumphant procession and entry into Jerusalem give way to the betrayal, arrest, torture, and death of Jesus. His Passion is in full view in these accounts.
When we ponder the Passion of Jesus during this Holy Week, can we imagine him fully experiencing the physical pain, emotional distress, isolation, and abandonment that are described in the Scripture readings? Or do we assume that Jesus’ divinity somehow shielded him from these experiences?
In “The Ignatian Adventure”, his guide to the Spiritual Exercises, Kevin O’Brien SJ says that “in order to know Jesus, we must take his humanity seriously. We must not forget that while he is fully divine, he is also fully human. To gloss over Jesus’ humanity is to miss one of the central meanings of the Incarnation: Jesus shows us that the way to our divinity (or holiness) is through our humanity, not around it. In other words, Jesus teaches us how to be fully human”.
Our world has undergone its own passion during this last year, as Covid 19 has wrought illness, death, isolation, depression, and financial ruin. Each of us can tell stories of our personal passion and/or the passion of family and friends. It is raw, and it is real. The Jesus who suffered so horribly himself, and loved us to the end, understands and is present to us with consoling love.
During this Holy Week, let us also bring into our prayer the suffering of others in our world who endure poverty, displacement, discrimination, oppression, marginalization, and other burdens. To truly stand in solidarity with them in their plight is to stand with the suffering Jesus.
The Palm Sunday Gospel is long and provides much to ponder.
Jesus begins with the Passover meal and goes on to speak of a betrayer in his midst. What do I do when I feel betrayed?
Jesus then listens to his disciples quarreling over who among them is the greatest. Jesus proclaims to the disciples that the one who serves is the greatest and calls Himself a servant. How does this call to service sit with me? Do I feel “above” this call of service?
Jesus withdraws to the Mount of Olives and prays for the strength to do the will of His Father. Then Jesus had to face the courts and undergo the Passion that was His destiny. Let us remember the injustice and suffering that Jesus would face.
On Calvary, it was a criminal who defended Jesus as He hung on the cross. In a few words he proclaimed in faith, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus promised him the reward of paradise. Before He died, Jesus uttered forgiveness and commended Himself to God.
The pain and agony of the cross did not prevent Jesus from reaching out in this profound action of love. Let us remember that Jesus’ actions on the Cross shows there is “No Greater Love.”
As our Lenten Journey continues on this Palm/Passion Sunday, we look back to the beginning of our journey—the promises and resolutions we made on Ash Wednesday (almost like our New Year’s resolutions). We promised to spend more time in prayer, entering into a deeper relationship with Jesus. That relationship would lead us to others—to feel the hurts and pain of those around us. Perhaps we promised to help others by almsgiving—sharing our gifts of plenty with a homeless shelter, a food pantry, an aging neighbor, one suffering an addiction.
How are we doing with those promises? Have we learned that fasting is so much more than just not eating or drinking certain things? Have we thought about fasting from unkind thoughts about another person, or fasting from buying something for ourselves so that we might contribute financially to those in need?
Pope Francis designated this Lent as a time to foster mercy through the traditional corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Try one on each day and live it. Now that’s a challenge!
As Jesus walks through his passion this week, let us join him as he enters Jerusalem with loud jubilation. Let us be present with him at the last supper as he shares his very self with the disciples and with us. Let us be with him in his prayer and agony in the garden, in his cruel sufferings, and in his death on the cross. Let us be among his friends as they received his body. And let us know that all this was done for love of us.
Sit with Jesus today as you would with someone you know is dying. Experience the heartache of Jesus as he leaves his mother and dearest friends and followers.
Fasting becomes a prayer when I intentionally let it draw me to change my ways so that I am more in touch with the mind and heart of Jesus.
Pope Francis calls us to “fast from ‘globalization of indifference’ and begin feasting in the ways of Jesus: nonviolence, forgiveness, solidarity, social justice and active, compassionate love for all who suffer.” We have only just begun…
Isaiah 43:18-19 “Remember not the events of the past….see, I am doing something new”
Philippians 3:12-13 “It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained it, but I continue my pursuit….forgetting what lies behind, but strained forward to what lies ahead.”
Each year, we celebrate the season of Lent, Holy Week and Easter. It is full of special events—Ash Wednesday, Rites of Initiation, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil. We make personal choices of how to journey this most holy and spiritual time of the year. It is a time to remember again the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus, who was sent by God to show us the way to live in God’s presence. It reminds us of all that Jesus lived and died for: “US”!
The readings for this week encourage us not to forget, but also to remember that there is something new waiting for us to receive from our God with open minds and hearts. Each of us has traveled this same journey for as many years as we have had birthdays. Sometimes those years are a repeat of the prayers and liturgies of the previous ones.
Sometimes it seems that we are not called to do the same thing over and over every year. And, if we listen to the words of Isaiah and Paul, we are challenged to look for the deeper meaning, the expanded vision, the next deeper insights of what this time of the year is meant to be for us.
Our faith not only repeats the past words and events, but needs to bring us to “continue the pursuit” as Paul suggests. We are called to discover the “something new” that allows the season to change our hearts and lead us to new understanding of how this time affects our spiritual life and gives us the impetus to carry this season into the future in a new way.
2016 is not the same as 2015, or 2014, or any other year. We are different, have had many new experiences since we celebrated this holy time last year. Perhaps our lives have seen a new commitment—and so we are reminded of the commitment Jesus made with the Father when he came to earth and walked among us.
Somewhere in one of the Gospel accounts, the observation is made that Jesus “knew what was in man.” That sounds ominous, but I think it’s simply stating the fact the he knew our flawed, fallible human nature and didn’t trust our rather irrational exuberance.
So, as he lurched along through the crowd on the back of that donkey, I suspect his enthusiasm for all the hoopla was muted by the awareness that “this too shall pass,” and the same folks who were cheering wildly for him could at any time shift to booing—and worse.
Jesus was a realist; we—not so much, or at least not consistently. We want so badly for stories all to happy endings. Where do we get that almost irrational hope? Childhood happily-ever-after storybooks?
It would take a major revamping of our culture to alter our expectations.
What do other cultures, other countries teach their children to hope for?
I guess in many places it would be pointless to hope at all, even for a safe and quiet place to sleep, or something—almost anything—to eat. Happily-ever-after is a dream for white, middleclass Americans, for ourselves and our children.
As we lurch along through life, can we widen our perspective on the future, consider others who might need our help, and try to be more grateful for all we already have (and take for granted as our “birthright!)—something to eat, enough to wear, a safe place to live, a comfortable bed to sleep in, a worthwhile occupation to fill our days?
Compared to most in this world, and to many even in our own city, we are so very wealthy. What can we spread around so others may have a reason to rejoice, if only for a bit?
Watch the local and national news every day. Rather than tsk-tsking about the events you see, ponder how you might make a difference somehow, somewhere.
Listen to conversations around you, your own and those of others. Do you hear attitudes of criticism or entitlement? Are any of them yours?
Mk 11:1-10 (At the procession); Is 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-19, 17-20, 23-24; Mk 14:1-72; Mk 15:1-39
Palm Sunday ushers us into Holy Week. As we receive our palm branch and listen to the opening Gospel we are transported in our imagination to the scene of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, seated on a donkey.
The crowds are still looking for a triumphant hero who will release them from the treacherous rule of the Romans. But, as we hear the Passion narrative—this year it’s from Mark—we remember that Jesus was alone in his suffering and death. The crowds did not get what they were looking for.
It is significant that Mark’s Passion narrative begins with the story of a woman who manages to break into a dinner party where Jesus is present. She anoints Jesus’ body with expensive oil. We are told that the oil was worth a year’s wages. She breaks the jar and pours the oil on Jesus’ head. Her action was not appreciated by the dinner guests. However, Jesus commends her. Immediately after that, Judas goes off to look for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to the authorities.
This story can inspire us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. We might think of how we spend a year’s wages (a sharing of our gifts) to soothe the pain of those who make up the suffering Body of Christ in the world today.
As Holy Week unfolds and leads us to Easter joy, we come to a deeper realization that although there may not be many earthly rewards for us as disciples, Jesus promises to be with us now and “he prepares a place for us so that where he is, we also may be.” (Jn 14:3)
Questions for reflection:
Do you feel confident enough in your relationship with God to trust your life with him?
How does God trust you? Who are some of the people that God entrusts to your care?
What graces do you need in order to live in this trust?
Palm Sunday—the beginning of Holy Week and the celebration of the central mystery of our faith: the Paschal mystery, the Passion, the death and Resurrection of Jesus.
On this day, let us pause to contemplate and commemorate the triumphal entrance of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. He rode on a donkey; the crowds spread their palm branches on the street and shouted: “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” On this day we celebrate with joyful acclamations to Jesus, our victorious king, who enters Jerusalem to fulfill the will of his Father.
Yet, what today is a joyful acclamation, tomorrow will be betrayal and death. Palm Sunday invites us to contemplate the beginning of Jesus’ Passion and death.
Have you ever experienced a sense of betrayal and rejection after having a joyful encounter with someone? Have you ever felt a bitter disappointment that took you by surprise?
Jesus endured everything we go through as human beings—except sin. He experienced the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, the abandonment of the disciples when he was most alone. Jesus must have felt that his mission was a failure and that he had been forsaken by his Father during his darkest moments. Yet, through it all, Jesus remained faithful and obedient to his Father out of love. “There is no greater love than the one who gives one’s life for one’s friends.”
What does it mean to you to be faithful to Jesus through bad times and good times? What is one of the greatest challenges you have faced? What speaks of God’s fidelity to you?
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul tells us: “Your attitude must be that of Christ” [2:5].
The saving power of God is being manifested in Christ, who humbled himself, obediently accepting death on the cross. Because of that, God highly exalted him, and the glory of the Father was manifested in his Resurrection.
We are invited to put on the heart and mind of Christ Jesus, growing in the awareness of our false self to find our true self in him. We are also invited to embrace the healing power of Christ to lift us up: from sin to grace; from spiritual blindness to a new consciousness; from carelessness of our planet Earth to a new awareness that we are part of the Earth and that it is a part of us. In this way, we can taste and see the joy of his rising from death to new life in us.
Our life in Christ invites us to experience his sufferings through our brothers and sisters who are victims of domestic and institutional violence, addictions, illnesses, poverty, prejudice and injustice. Ours is a world threatened by fear, insecurity, individualism, competition, consumerism and pleasures.
Having the same attitude as Christ Jesus is a response to a call to participate in his Mission: “Touching lives, changing lives.”
What is your unique call to embrace the heart and mind of Christ Jesus?
How can you be a joyful witness to his Resurrection in a world crying out for redemption by Christ Jesus?
“See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”