Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
We start with such promise! The people of Jerusalem welcoming Jesus as a king, waving palms, laying their cloaks on the road before Him…and then in our second Gospel today we hear of the betrayal of Judas, the arrest of Jesus, His being abandoned, beaten, imprisoned, mocked, and then crucified. How did it come to this?
That is what we will explore this entire week; we will not only explore it, but we will relive it. Our Holy Week begins as the week of His Passion began: palms and praises. Parishes in remote corners of the world import palm fronds to places where the tree does not grow, from Alaska to Afghanistan, China to the Congo. Hundreds of millions world-wide will stand for the long reading of the Passion, children will tickle each other’s ears with palm fronds, or pull apart the loose fibers, and some will fold and weave them into beautiful designs. We will sing songs, perhaps not with the same urgency and vibrancy as the people did on the first Palm Sunday, when they believed their Messiah has come, the one who would liberate them from Roman occupation, but we will sing and we will celebrate in our own way, as we do every Sunday. Then we will go back to our ordinary lives on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, as many in Jerusalem did two thousand years ago.
But our Gospels on those days will show us the hidden events leading up to His Passion: the moving story of the Anointing at Bethany, conversation at the Last Supper regarding Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s denial, and again the betrayal of Judas, on a day long known as “Spy Wednesday.” Then on Holy Thursday many of us will come to our parish in the evening and relive in a special way what we relive at every Mass: the Last Supper. We come behind the scenes to participate in this intimate meal precisely because we, too, are His friends, the ones who love Him, yet so often fail to love Him as we want, or ought. Yet we are there, at His table; some of us even experience the humbling and perhaps humiliating act of washing feet.
Then, saint and sinner alike, we return the next afternoon or evening for Good Friday, a day unlike any other day in the Church year: the only day without Mass. We come to a familiar place and find it utterly unfamiliar: the altar is stripped, we kneel and pray for the world again and again, we approach the Liturgy of the Eucharist as if all is somewhat normal and then…nothing. We pray the Our Father, the Eucharist is brought forward, we are fed, and dismissed in silence. We are bereft of the comfort of normalcy, of being told the familiar story of the Last Supper because we, like the Apostles, were there the night before, and now we, like they, are experiencing how jarring it is to have Jesus to be ripped violently from our lives. Yet, unlike them, Jesus still reaches out to us in the Eucharist, prepared the day before: He will not leave us to starve.
Holy Saturday dawns and there is nothing. No morning Mass, nothing until evening. As a Church we experience the wounded, shocked silence of the Apostles, that heavy sense of not knowing what to do. But we, because of the faith they have handed on to us, know what to do: we go, as Mary Magdalene did, back to the tomb to see where Death itself lies dead…
Jacob Boddicker, SJ