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Archive for the ‘Palm Sunday’ Category

The next week marks the high point of our Church year. The French existentialist philosopher Albert Camus once wrote, “There is no sun without shadow. It is essential that we know the night.” Christians know that there can be no resurrection without the cross.

We hear two different versions of Jesus’ Passion this week. On Palm Sunday we hear Matthew’s account, sprinkled with references to the Old Testament and the way that Jesus fulfilled the words of the great Hebrew prophets. On Good Friday, we hear the Passion according to John, the same story but told from the other side of the resurrection, when there’s no doubt about the outcome, no question of who is in control of everything that takes place. It reminds us that faith is often a question of perspective. God’s truth shows itself in our lives in different ways.

It’s not quite 40 days since we were signed with the ashes of last year’s palms, praying that this time we wouldn’t run from the cross. The cross is before us now with its wordless challenge to love beyond death.

We gather at church on Palm Sunday and wave our palm fronds in the entrance procession. During the reading of the passion, we may take the parts of the crowd, shouting almost in spite of ourselves, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

We might think this is merely a bit of liturgical playacting. It may be that we come to church because it’s what we’ve always done or because someone is telling us that we have to. We may not give much thought to why we gather here for these holy days.

Like the Jewish celebration of Passover, which not only remembers the historical event that changed forever their lives at the chosen people of God but makes that saving event a reality in the lives of those who celebrate it down through time, the events of Holy Week are far more than a dramatization of the last days of Jesus’ life. We enter into the saving mysteries of the passion, death and resurrection. Jesus’ gift of his Body and Blood at the Last Supper takes place each and every time we celebrate the Eucharist.

Our actions here at Mass may give us a deeper insight into our relationship with God. How often do we turn on God when things don’t go the way we had so carefully planned? How often do we stand waiting for a glorious celebration of victory, only to find ourselves staring in confusion at a cross? The palm branches drop from our hands and we raise our firsts to heaven, hoping to hide deep disappointment in self-righteous defiance.

A long-standing tradition among Catholics has been to braid palms into crosses. There are many different methods for doing this. I was surprised to find a variety of patterns and instructions on the internet. Crosses take many different shapes. Whether or not you take part in this folk tradition, it’s a metaphor of the way this day begins with a palm and ends with a cross.

Take some time this week to think about events in your own life that have given you an experience of Jesus’ command to pick up your cross and follow him. You might find that something you always wanted has turned to bitter disappointment. See beyond that disappointment to the God who is in control even in the blackness of death.

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Perhaps you’ve seen these Nationwide Insurance commercials: the partying college student is suddenly a balding man with a mortgage; the baby in a car seat is a teenager by the next intersection, the father pushing a toddler on a swing is suddenly knocked down by the swing now occupied by a hefty adolescent. Their slogan is, “Life comes at you fast.”

This might be a good slogan for the Palm Sunday liturgy. We begin the liturgy with the Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The citizens welcome him with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David.” It seems to be his finest hour, the popular recognition of who he is as the long-awaited Messiah. But we know from elsewhere in the Gospels that a popular idea of the messiah was rarely the role that Jesus was destined to fill. All too soon the fickle crowds will be turned by some of their leaders to condemn this very person they greet so enthusiastically. The disciples’ heads must have been spinning at the sudden reversal of fortune.

Our own liturgy moves quickly from the procession with palms into the reading of the Passion. One campus parish tried to separate these two different moods by a solemn reading of the passion at the end of Mass, a foreshadowing of and entrance into the events of Holy Week. While it had a dramatic effect, it misses the fact that in this holiest of weeks, we are not spectators at a dramatic recreation of the final week of Jesus’ life. Too often we get cast in the role of the crowd, extras playing bit parts in an epic movie. But we are in fact participating in a most solemn commemoration of the paschal mystery—the death and resurrection of our Lord.

Reflecting on this movement from triumph to tragedy to the ultimate triumph during Holy Week can help us understand the way the paschal mystery manifests itself in our own lives. As members of the body of Christ, we, too, experience the death and resurrection that Jesus did. We all have experiences of life coming at us fast and leaving us gasping for breath and searching for meaning. We find it not in the financial security of a life insurance policy but in the spiritual awareness that everything in our lives—the heights of joy and triumph, the depths of suffering and death—is united with the life of Christ.

St. Luke gives us many memorable scenes unique to his account of the Passion. Only from Luke do we hear the story of the two thieves crucified with Jesus, men who knew that they deserved the punishment they received, and who knew, too, that this man between them did not. In the depths of his despair, the one we know as Dismas, the good thief, asks Jesus, “Remember me when you enter into your kingdom.” Jesus promises him, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke also tells us that Jesus says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” We might find comfort in these words when we find ourselves acting out of anger or frustration and hurting those we love.

Jesus’ last words in Luke’s passion are, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” These words are perhaps our best response to our sense that life comes at us way too fast at times. Our lives are in God’s hands. Knowing this in the depths of our beings gives us all the assurance we need.

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