Archive for the ‘Passion Narratives’ Category

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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