Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Today’s readings

Palm Sunday is, quite honestly, a feast with a bit of a split personality. We start out on a seemingly triumphant note.  Jesus enters Jerusalem, the Holy City, and the center of the Jewish religion; the city he has been journeying toward throughout the gospel narrative, and he enters it to the adulation of throngs.  Cloaks are thrown down in the street, the people wave palms and chant “Hosanna.”  This is it, isn’t it?  It seems like Jesus’ message has finally been accepted, at least by the crowds who have long been yearning for a messiah, an anointed one, to deliver them from foreign oppression.

Only that wasn’t the kind of salvation Jesus came to offer.  Instead, he preached forgiveness and mercy and real justice and healed people from the inside out.  He called people to repentance, to change their lives, to hear the gospel and to live it every day.  He denounced hypocrisy, and demanded that those who would call themselves religious reach out in love to the poor and those on the margins.  It wasn’t a welcome message; it wasn’t the message they thought the messiah would bring.

And that’s what brings us to the one hundred and eighty degree turn we experience in today’s second gospel reading, the reading of our Lord’s Passion and death.  Enough of this, they say; the religious leaders must be right: he must be a demon, or at least a troublemaker.  Better that we put up with the likes of Barabbas.  As for this one, well, crucify him.

Who are we going to blame for this?  Whose fault is it that they crucified my Lord? Is it the Jews, as many centuries of anti-Semitism would assert?  Was it the Romans, those foreign occupiers who sought only the advancement of their empire?  Was it the fickle crowds, content enough to marvel at Jesus when he fed the thousands, but abandoning him once his message made demands of them?  Was it Peter, who couldn’t even keep his promise of standing by his friend for a few hours?  Was it the rest of the apostles, who scattered lest they be tacked up on a cross next to Jesus?  Was it Judas, who gave in to despair thinking he had it all wrong?  Was it the cowardly Herod and Pilate who were both manipulating the event in order to maintain their pathetic fiefdoms?  Who was it who put Jesus on that cross?

And the answer, as we well know, is that it’s none of those. Because it’s my sins that led Jesus along the Way of the Cross.  It’s my sins that betrayed him; it’s my sins that have kept me from friendship with God.  Those sins could have kept me from friendship with God forever, but God’s love would not have that be that way.  And so he willingly gave his life that I might have life.  And you.

He gave himself for us.

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Today’s readings

Palm Sunday is, quite honestly, a feast with a bit of a split personality. We start out on a seemingly triumphant note. Jesus enters Jerusalem, the city of the center of the Jewish religion, the city he has been journeying toward throughout the gospel narrative, and he enters it to the adulation of throngs. Cloaks are thrown down in the street, the people wave palms and chant “Hosanna.” This is it, isn’t it? It seems like Jesus’ message has finally been accepted, at least by the crowds who have long been yearning for a messiah to deliver them from foreign oppression.

Only that wasn’t the kind of salvation Jesus came to offer. Instead, he preached forgiveness and mercy and real justice and healed people from the inside out. He called people to repentance, to change their lives, to hear the gospel and to live it every day. He denounced hypocrisy, and demanded that those who would call themselves religious reach out in love to the poor and those on the margins. It wasn’t a welcome message; it wasn’t the message they thought the messiah would bring.

And that’s what brings us to the one hundred and eighty degree turn we experience in today’s second gospel reading, the reading of our Lord’s Passion and death. Enough of this, they say; the religious leaders must be right: he must be a demon, or at least a troublemaker. Better that we put up with the likes of Barabbas. As for this one, well, crucify him.

Who are we going to blame for this? Whose fault is it that they crucified my Lord? Is it the Jews, as many centuries of anti-Semitism would assert? Was it the Romans, those foreign occupiers who sought only the advancement of their empire? Was it the fickle crowds, content enough to marvel at Jesus when he fed the thousands, but abandoning him once his message was made clear? Was it Peter, who couldn’t even keep his promise of standing by his friend for a few hours? Was it the rest of the apostles, who scattered lest they be tacked up on a cross next to Jesus? Was it Judas, who gave in to despair thinking he had it all wrong? Was it the cowardly Herod and Pilate who were both manipulating the event in order to maintain their pathetic fiefdoms? Who was it who put Jesus on that cross?

And the answer, as we well know, is that it’s none of those. Because it’s my sins that led Jesus to the Way of the Cross. It’s my sins that betrayed him; it’s my sins that have kept me from friendship with God. And so he willingly gave his life that I might have life. And you.

He gave himself for us.

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Today’s readings

I’ve always felt that the celebration of Palm Sunday was a little strange.  We start out on a seemingly triumphant note.  Jesus enters Jerusalem, the city of the center of the Jewish religion, the city he has been journeying toward throughout the gospel narrative, and he enters it to the adulation of throngs.  Cloaks are thrown down in the street, the people wave palms and chant “Hosanna.”  This is it, isn’t it?  It seems like Jesus’ message has finally been accepted, at least by the crowds who have long been yearning for a messiah to deliver them from foreign oppression.

Only that wasn’t the kind of salvation Jesus came to offer.  Instead, he preached forgiveness and healed people from the inside out.  He called people to repentance, to change their lives, to hear the gospel and to live it every day.  He denounced hypocrisy, and demanded that those who would call themselves religious reach out in love to the poor and those on the margins.  It wasn’t an easy message for them to hear, it wasn’t the message they thought the messiah would bring.

And that’s what brings us to the one hundred and eighty degree turn we experience in today’s second gospel reading.  Enough of this, they say, the religious leaders must be right: he must be a demon, or at least a troublemaker.  Better that we put up with the likes of Barabbas.  As for this one, well, crucify him.

Who are we going to blame for this?  Whose fault is it that they crucified my Lord?  Is it the Jews, as many centuries of anti-Semitism would assert?  Was it the Romans, those foreign occupiers who sought only the advancement of their empire?  Was it the fickle crowds, content enough to marvel at Jesus when he fed the thousands, but abandoning him once his message was made clear?  Was it Peter, who couldn’t even keep his promise of standing by his friend for a few hours?  Was it the rest of the apostles, who scattered lest they be tacked up on a cross next to Jesus?  Was it Judas, who gave in to despair thinking he had it all wrong?  Was it the cowardly Herod and Pilate who were both manipulating the event in order to maintain their pathetic fiefdoms?  Who was it who put Jesus on that cross?

And the answer, as we well know, is that it’s none of those.  Because it’s my sins that led Jesus to the Way of the Cross.  It’s my sins that betrayed him; it’s my sins that have kept me from friendship with God.  And so he willingly gave his life that I might have life.  And you.  He gave himself for us.

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Today’s readings

This is it.  Today’s liturgy brings us to the place we’ve been journeying toward all during Lent.  These past forty days have seen Jesus tangle with the established religion, all the while healing the sick and preaching repentance.  We have participated in that by participating in the Anointing of the Sick Mass, in receiving absolution in Confession, and by our fasting and works of charity.  And so it seems quite fitting that our Mass today begins on a high note: with Jesus entering triumphantly into the city of Jerusalem.  But just three chapters later in Mark’s Gospel, all of his good work becomes his undoing as he is arrested, tried and put to death.  It doesn’t seem fair, does it?

We know that’s how life is.  We offer our works of charity and fasting and prayer and we hope for a better life, but sometimes that’s not how it works out.  Sometimes we too end up denounced, the victims of gossip and calumny, and we have to take up that rough, heavy cross and travel to our own personal Golgothas.  And so perhaps today we find ourselves in all-too-familiar territory, and find it difficult to hear.

The trouble is that the Cross is an in-your-face reminder that pain is part and parcel of our life of salvation.  Jesus did not come to take away our pain, he came to redeem it.  Not only that, he came to take it on himself.  Far from being embarrassed by our sin and pain, Jesus took it to the cross, redeeming our brokenness, and leaving us an everlasting promise that there is no pain too great for our God to bear and there is no way we can ever fall so far that our God can’t reach us.  Jesus took our every hurt, our every pain, our every sin, our every shame, our every resentment, our every emptiness, and left them all there at the foot of the Cross.  So if we find the Cross and Golgotha a difficult place to be, maybe it’s no wonder.

I know there are many among us now who are carrying pain with them each day.  I hear it all the time, whether it’s the patient in the hospital who’s been away from the Church and estranged from their family and is facing death, or the young parent who wants to live a spiritual life but the demands of family and perhaps a job are all that he or she can accomplish in a day.  For some it’s very serious stuff: the diagnosis of an illness that is frightening, the loss of a loved one, the ending of a job or career, or even a marriage.  Broken relationships, upheaval in our lives, uncertainty in our future are crosses that are so very familiar to so many of us.

But as horrible as those things are to deal with, and as dejected and frustrated and fearful as they may make us feel, the one thing we should never entertain is a feeling of loneliness.  Because for all of us who are hurting in any way, all we have to do is look at the Cross and realize that there is nothing our God won’t do for us.  No, it’s not pretty, and God may not take away our pain right away, but he will never ever leave us alone in it.  In fact, he helps us bear it, and ultimately, he will raise us up out of it.  As we enter this Holy Week, we are reminded gently that the cross, while significant, is not the end of the story.  Yes, we have to suffer our own Good Fridays; but we confidently remember that we also get an Easter Sunday.  And that is what gives us all the confidence to take up our cross and journey on.

These are not ordinary days – they are absolutely not for business as usual.  I beg you all to enter into these Holy Days with passion, with prayerfulness and in faith.  Gather with us on Holy Thursday at 7:00pm to celebrate the giving of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, and the call to service that comes from our baptism.  On Good Friday at 3:00 in the afternoon, we will have the opportunity once again to reflect on the Passion, to venerate the cross that won our salvation, and to receive the Eucharist, which is our strength.  Finally, at 8:00 on Holy Saturday night, we will gather outside on the piazza to keep vigil for the resurrection we have been promised.  We will hear stories of our salvation, we will celebrate our baptism and welcome five people into our family, rejoicing in the victory of Christ over sin and death.  No Catholic should ever miss the celebrations of these Holy Days, for these days truly sustain our daily living, give us the grace to take up our little crosses day by day, and gift us with strength to continue the journey.

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Today’s readings

Today, and throughout this Holy Week, we have in our Liturgy a stark reminder that the hope that we have in the Resurrection was purchased at a great price. Our world today would prefer to ignore the cross. And with good reason. Because the cross is embarrassing. Until Christianity, no religion worth its salt would base itself on a God who suffered an ignoble death that was reserved for the most obstinate of criminals. And even now, you know, we’d rather not dwell on that kind of pain, would we? We live in an age where there is a pill for every minor affliction and a treatment for every discomfort. In and of itself, this is not a bad thing, but then we can often take it farther and find ways to mask any pain, physical or psychological, that comes our way, and this is not healthy.

The Cross is an in-your-face reminder that pain is part and parcel of our life of salvation. Jesus did not come to take away our pain, he came to redeem it. Not only that, he came to take it on himself. Far from being embarrassed by our sin and pain, Jesus took it to the cross, redeeming our brokenness, and leaving us an everlasting promise that there is no pain too great for our God to bear and there is no way we can ever fall so far that our God can’t reach us. We may think our pain and our sin is embarrassing, but Jesus left none of that behind on the way to the cross. He took our every hurt, our every pain, our every sin, our every shame, our every resentment, our every emptiness, and left them all there at the foot of the cross.

And so today’s Liturgy brings us to the place to which we have been journeying this Lent, namely the cross. I think the Psalmist today captures the feeling of our hearts as we arrive here: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

And haven’t we all asked that question at least once in our lives? As we sing those words, they can quite frankly bring back painful memories, whether they be memories of past hurts, or reflections of current ones. Maybe it’s the time when you were sexually abused and felt abandoned because you were convinced no one would believe you. Maybe it’s the time you received a frightening diagnosis and you felt abandoned because you couldn’t enter into daily life with the same carefree attitude you previously had. Maybe it’s the occasion of the death of a loved one and you felt abandoned because everyone on the planet seemed joyful, except you. Maybe it’s the time you were laid off from your job and you felt abandoned because it seemed that no one valued your skills and talents.

We’d rather not be here at the cross, would we?  But this week reminds us that without the cross, there is no resurrection. Not for Jesus, and so also, not for us. Jesus certainly had his moment in the Garden of Gethsemane when the knowledge of his impending death filled him with dread; and so it will be for us, countless times when we are called on to take up the cross. But as we enter this Holy Week, we are reminded gently that the cross, while significant, is not the end of the story. Yes, we have to suffer our own Good Fridays; but we confidently remember that we also get an Easter Sunday.  And that is what gives us all the confidence to take up our cross and journey on.

These are not ordinary days – they are not for business as usual.  I invite you all to enter into these Holy Days with passion, with prayerfulness and in faith. Gather with us on Holy Thursday at 7:30pm to celebrate the giving of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, and the call to service that comes from our baptism. On Good Friday at 3:00 in the afternoon, we will have the opportunity once again to reflect on the Passion, to venerate the cross that won our salvation, and to receive the Eucharist, which is our strength. Finally, at 8:00 on Holy Saturday night, we will gather here in a darkened church to keep vigil for the resurrection we have been promised. We will hear stories of our salvation, we will celebrate our baptism as we welcome new members to our family, seeing them fully initiated into the life of the Church, rejoicing with them in the victory of Christ over sin and death. No Catholic should ever miss the celebrations of these Holy Days, for these days truly sustain our daily living and give us the grace to take up our little crosses day by day.

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Today’s readings

Today’s celebration reminds us that Lent has been taking us somewhere, and now we see where that somewhere is: Calvary. These days have led us to the cross, which is a place to which, quite frankly, few of us ever want to go. The Psalmist today captures the feeling of our hearts as we arrive here at the cross: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

And haven’t we all asked that question at least once in our lives? As we sing those words, they can quite frankly bring back painful memories, whether they be memories of past hurts, or reflections of current ones. Maybe it’s the time when you were sexually abused and felt abandoned because you were convinced no one would believe you. Maybe it’s the time you received a frightening diagnosis and you felt abandoned because you couldn’t enter into daily life with the same carefree attitude you previously had. Maybe it’s the occasion of the death of a loved one and you felt abandoned because everyone on the planet seemed joyful, except you. Maybe it’s the time you were laid off from your job and you felt abandoned because it seemed that no one valued your skills and talents.

And so we pray with the Psalmist, with Jesus, and with every person who has ever felt lost and alone: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” It’s natural that we would prefer to avoid the cross. It’s painful, it’s embarrassing, and it ultimately alienates us from the world. But, the cross is what joins us to Christ. Christ did not shun the cross on the way to accomplish his mission. He took up that cross, died on it, taking with it all of our pain, all of our shame, all of our loneliness, all of our abandonment, all of our sin, and most of all, our death.

Without the cross, there is no resurrection. Not for Jesus, and so also, not for us. Jesus certainly had his moment in the Garden of Gethsemane when the knowledge of his impending death filled him with dread; so it will be for us, countless times when we are called on to take up the cross. But as we enter this Holy Week, we are reminded gently that the cross, while significant, is not the end of the story. There will be a resurrection for Jesus, and so also a resurrection for all those who believe in him, have faith in him, and follow him. And that is what gives us all the confidence to take up our cross and journey on.

I invite you all to enter into these Holy Days with passion, with prayerfulness and in faith. Gather with us on Holy Thursday evening to celebrate the giving of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, and the call to service that comes from our baptism. On Good Friday afternoon and evening, we will have the opportunity once again to reflect on the Passion, to venerate the cross that won our salvation, and to receive the Eucharist, which is our strength. Finally, on the evening of Holy Saturday, we will gather to keep vigil for the resurrection we have been promised. We will hear stories of our salvation, we will celebrate our baptism as we welcome new members to our family, seeing them fully initiated into the life of the Church, rejoicing with them in the victory of Christ over sin and death. No Catholic should miss the celebrations of these Holy Days, for these days truly sustain our daily living and give us the grace to take up our little crosses day by day.

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