Palm Sunday, April 5, 2009.

Isaiah 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15:47

Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday, is the first day of Holy Week which ends with Easter the following Sunday, commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem preceding his passion. This episode precedes the suffering and crucifixion, indicating Jesus as the King, the Messiah. As he entered, the people of Jerusalem recognized Jesus as their king, saying “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The Gospels tell us how the people spread their clothes on the ground, made Jesus sit on an ass and took in procession waving the palm or olive branches. The church re-enacts this great act of triumphant entry of Jesus carrying the Palm leaves and meditatively reflects on the passion of our Lord. Actual ceremonies typically include a procession of palm fronds which are blessed and will later be burned, their ashes used in the next year’s Ash Wednesday.
The earliest evidence of Palm Sunday events can be traced back to Jerusalem in the 4th century and in the following century, we find this ceremony established, not only in the churches of the east, but also in the monasteries of Egypt and Syria. At the beginning of Lent, many of the holy monks obtained permission from their abbots to retire into the desert, that they might spend the sacred season in strict seclusion; but they were obliged to return to their monasteries for Palm Sunday. The significance of Jesus riding a donkey and having his way paved with palm branches is a fulfillment of a prophecy of Zechariah. The regional custom those days called for kings and nobles arriving in procession riding on a donkey. The donkey was a symbol of peace; those who rode upon them proclaimed peaceful intentions. The laying of palm branches indicated that the king or dignitary was arriving in victory or triumph in the simplest of terms, Palm Sunday is an occasion for reflecting on the final week of Jesus’ life. It is a time for Christians to prepare their hearts for the agony of His Passion and the joy of His Resurrection.
The liturgy of the day contains first the blessing of the palms; and we may have an idea of its importance from the solemnity used by the Church in this saved rite. This is included as a part of the Eucharistic celebration. Traditionally in the Western Church the Palm Sunday service begins with the “blessing of the palms,” which is used for the procession that follows. Then a procession into the church building follows. If there cannot be a procession from the outside of the church due to any reason or lack of space for the movement or the weather conditions, a solemn entrance, taking place entirely within the church. The hymns and psalmody are related to Christ’s office as King. Traditionally the hymn, All Glory Praise and Honour…,
Our key to understanding this week is in today’s Second Reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. “Let the same mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus.” Though Jesus was in the form of God, he “emptied” himself, and went down to the lowest depths of degradation and humiliation, dying naked and as a convicted criminal. The same idea is found in the First Reading from Isaiah which describes the “Suffering Servant” who does not resist the violence brought on him by his enemies. “For my part I made no resistance neither did I turn away.” Here there is an absolute refusal to meet violence with violence.
The Passion reading today consists of two whole chapters from Mark’s Gospel. It tells us of the agony, suffering and death of Jesus. It tells us of the preparation where the enemies are plotting while the sinful woman anoints his feet which Judas considers a waste. He now plans to betray Jesus in exchange for money. Then is the Lord’s Supper where Jesus shares his own body and blood symbolically and invites them to do it in his memory. At the same time he makes them aware that he knows of the plot against him. He even predicts Peter’s denial. In the garden of Gethsemane is the example of the prayer of Jesus. It is a prayer of petition asking the Father to take the chalice away from him but ends with the acceptance of the will of the Father. He is unable to get any support from his own friends. Instead he sees the distortion of love for he is betrayed with a kiss.
There is then the mock trial of Jesus. They bring false witnesses indicating their final aim to kill him and destroy his very presence. They bring him to Pilate for he alone could have sentenced him to death and the death on a cross. Pilate is unable to release him even though he finds no fault in him. Jesus is now declared a king and the soldiers beat him mock him and make a crown of thorns. Finally Pilate condemns him to be crucified and after the flogging Jesus is made to carry his cross to Calvary. His was the painful journey to pass through the city where he preached and worked miracles. Once crucified and raised on the cross he speaks to the Father and feels he is alone and finally into his hands he gives up the spirit. We see the good people too onhis journey of sufferings. The centurion says that truly he was a great man, the son of God and Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea organize his burial.
The entire event was brutal and cruel and Jesus endured it for our sake. There is plenty for us to reflect and to pray over these readings, not just today but for the whole week and indeed beyond. As St Ignatius of Loyola suggests in his Spiritual Exercises, let us make ourselves personally present in each of these scenes. “I try to listen to the way words are spoken, I attempt to see the expression on the face, I am present with as heightened awareness as I can muster, so that I enter into the mystery I am contemplating… I should pay special attention to how the divinity hides itself so that Jesus seems so utterly human and helpless. To realise that Christ loves me so much that he willingly suffers everything for my rejections and sins…”
Pope Benedict XVI, while speaking to the Youth in Rome on Palm Sunday 2007, said: “In the Palm Sunday procession we join with the crowd of disciples who in festive joy accompany the Lord during his entry into Jerusalem. Like them, we praise the Lord with a loud voice for all the miracles we have seen, how he gives men and women the courage to oppose violence and deceit, to make room for truth in the world; to bring about reconciliation where there had been hatred and to create peace where enmity had reigned. The procession is first and foremost a joyful witness that we bear to Jesus Christ, in whom the Face of God became visible to us and thanks to whom the Heart of God is open to us. Thus, the procession of the Palms is also a procession of Christ the King: we profess the Kingship of Jesus Christ, we recognize Jesus as the Son of David, the true Solomon, the King of peace and justice. We submit to him because his authority is the authority of the truth. The procession of the Palms – as it was at that time for the disciples – is primarily an expression of joy because we are able to recognize Jesus, because he allows us to be his friends and because he has given us the key to life. This joy, however, which is at the beginning, is also an expression of our “yes” to Jesus and our willingness to go with him wherever he takes us.”
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