Entering Into Christ’s Sabbath

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Apart from the procession with palms, the long gospel reading of our Lord’s Passion makes the Palm Sunday Mass quite memorable for most people. The rubrics of the Mass for Palm Sunday even specify that the homily should be kept short — not to “make up time,” but because the gospel reading is really meant to stand on its own. Palm Sunday invites us to enter into the Lord’s Passion in a contemplative way — to experience it as an event rather than a lesson. The Passion is not a parable. It is our God giving himself to us fully and freely in love.

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Crucifying the King

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (A)

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Palm Sunday is unusual, not just because we have two gospel readings (one before Mass begins outside the church), but because of the contrast between the two. Some Sundays are given special names, such as Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday a couple of weeks ago. I like to call Palm Sunday the “Well That Escalated Quickly” Sunday.
We begin our celebration outside the church with a reading from Matthew 21, welcoming Christ into Jerusalem as a triumphant king. We shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
Moments later we have the very long gospel reading of the Lord’s Passion, recalling how Jesus was betrayed, arrested, tortured, executed and buried. We shout out, “Let Him be crucified!” The reading ends with a cold stone being rolled over the entrance to Jesus’ tomb.
What a stark contrast.
We might leave Mass on Palm Sunday with our heads spinning, wondering how the people of Jerusalem could go from welcoming Jesus as a King to crucifying Him as a criminal in so short a time. But don’t we do the same?
During our initial conversion, when we first come to embrace Christ as our Lord and Savior, we welcome Him into our hearts. We rejoice and hail Him as our King, with shouts of “Hosanna” (an ancient Jewish acclamation of praise). Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, who frees us from our sins! Hosanna!
But then what? Eventually we sin again. And by sinning, we once more join the crowds shouting “Crucify Him!” For this is the reason why Christ, who was innocent of all sin, had to die on the cross — for our sins, yours and mine. Each time we sin we should think about the crucifixion and know that it is our sins that drove the nails into his hands and feet.
So what should we do? 
First of all, we don’t give up. Because beyond the cross there is the empty tomb. Beyond death there is resurrection. Beyond sin there is forgiveness. Beyond condemnation there is mercy. 
Christ died on the cross for our sins, and if we have a compassionate heart at all, that should fill us with sorrow. Deep down we know that we are the ones who deserve to be punished for our sins, not Jesus. But it should also make us rejoice. It is a great mystery that sorrow and joy can coexist in Christianity. Jesus died for our sins on the cross, and this is good news. Because by so doing He has won our redemption and freed us from our sin. This is why it is a betrayal of Christ any time we choose to sin, because it is a rejection of that freedom He won for us, a freedom from sin.
So  we must learn to hate sin and avoid it at all cost – especially mortal sin. All sin is a failure to love as we should. We all fail in love in small ways throughout our lives, because even though we are redeemed we are not yet perfected. We are works in progress. God is still training us in holiness and that takes time. But some sins are so grievous as to be incompatible with love. These are mortal sins, and by committing these sins we cut ourselves off from God’s divine life, which is love itself. So having accepted Christ as our King and welcomed Him into our hearts with shouts of “Hosanna,” we should detest nothing more than the thought of evicting Jesus from our hearts by mortal sin.
But when we realize that we have turned away from God by falling into sin, we should immediately turn back. To repent literally means to “turn around.” We turn away from our sin and turn back to God, seeking His forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation. Yes, your sin is why Christ died on the cross. Yes, this should cause you sorrow. But yes, it should also cause you to rejoice, because Christ died for all of your sins. Not just one. Not just a few. All of them. Even and especially the ones that you feel guilty about right now. Give them to Christ. He’s already paid the price for them. Give them over to Him in the confessional and let Him take their burden off of your shoulders. This is, quite literally, what He came into the world to do. Let Him do it. 
It’s really that simple. Strive to be faithful. But when you are not, repent and seek forgiveness. Then strive to be faithful once more. Do that, over and over.  As often as you fall, get back up again. As often as you sin, repent and seek forgiveness. Keep moving forward, following Jesus into Jerusalem, all the way to the cross. Because on the other side of that cross is eternal life and the joy of heaven. Let us follow together our Crucified King.
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Gospel For Today – Palm Sunday (A)


(The following is adapted from my Palm Sunday reflection of 2013.)
Today is Palm Sunday, also called Passion Sunday.  These two names reflect two very different aspects of today’s liturgy, which is unique in that two different gospel readings are proclaimed.  In churches all over the world today people will gather outside the parish doors, or in the fellowship hall, parking lot, or otherwise out of the church proper to begin the liturgical celebration in joy and triumph.  We will read from Matthew 21:1-11, of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on an ass.  As he rides along people spread their cloaks out on the road for him, and praise God with joy singing, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” 
After the gospel reading we are given blessed palms and asked to lend our voices to the praising crowd, as we sing, “Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!”
Inside the church, though, is another matter.  Turn a page or two in Matthew’s gospel.  Now we hear of the Last Supper, Jesus’s arrest and trial, his passion and his death.  We participate in the gospel reading this morning, reading aloud the words belonging to the gathered crowd.  With the crowd, we shout, “Let him be crucified!”  Our voices are the ones that choose Barabbas over Jesus.  Our voices, that moments ago sang his praises, now condemn him.
Isn’t this exactly like the human heart?  Aren’t we all too often like Peter, swearing that we would never deny our Lord, but then before the cock crows find we have done it not once, but multiple times? 
Why does the Church ask us today to be the voices that call for Christ’s death?  I know some people who literally break down into tears as they shout those words at Mass; it breaks their heart.  We do this because we are the ones who crucified Christ.  We are the ones who are responsible for his suffering and his death — you and me, and every other person who has ever sinned, which is to say everyone.  We need to be reminded of this not simply so we can express gratitude (though we should), but so that we can feel true sorrow for our part in Christ’s passion.  It should break your heart.  It should hurt. 
But Jesus doesn’t just suffer because of us; he suffers for us.  Christ is not only crucified for us; he asks us to join him on the cross.  “If you would be my disciples, you must take up your cross and follow me.”  Being a Christian means you must suffer on the cross as well.  Jesus did not come to end all suffering; he came to transform suffering into a means of salvation. The way this is achieved is for us to join our suffering to his.
When we are baptized, we are sacramentally joined to Christ’s death and resurrection.  From that moment on, each occasion of suffering in our life can draw us closer in communion with our Lord’s passion.  This all sounds rather grim, I know.  But the Passion is not the end of the story.  Palm Sunday is followed by Easter.  When we join our suffering to the Lord’s, we join with the one who conquered death.  The more we die with Christ, the more we will rise with him.  This is the great joy of the cross.
Hanging from the cross, beaten and bruised, thirsty, humiliated, and in excruciating pain, our Lord uses one of his last breaths to exclaim, “My God, my god, why have you abandoned me?”  Did Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, really feel abandoned by God?  No.  Our Lord was quoting from Psalm 22, which we hear at today’s Mass.  The psalm is prophetic.  Composed by divine inspiration hundreds of years before the Crucifixion, the psalmist speaks of being mocked, having his hands and feet pierced, surrounded by evil doers, and having lots cast for his garments — all things that describe the suffering of the Christ.  But then the psalmist proclaims, “But you, O Lord, be not far from me; O my help, hasten to aid me.  I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you…”
Jesus was never and could never be separated from God.  And God is never far from those who suffer with His Son.  The closer you come to the cross, the closer you draw to God.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel, and the Suffering Servant.  

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

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