Christ’s Sabbath Rest
Palm Sunday of Our Lord’s Passion
This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week, the most sacred time of the year for Christians. It includes the Paschal Triduum (Latin for “three days”) of Holy Thursday, when we commemorate the Lord’s institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist, Good Friday, when we commemorate his passion and death, and the Easter Vigil on Saturday night when we celebrate with joy Christ’s resurrection from the tomb and triumph over death. But before all of that we have Palm Sunday, that whirlwind of a liturgy that begins with Jesus being welcomed into Jerusalem hailed with glad shouts of “Hosanna!” and ends with his arrest and torture with shouts of “Crucify him!”
Because our recent CCM In-Depth video has placed us in YouTube “time out”, we are unable to upload a “minute homily” this week. Just as well. The liturgy of Palm Sunday truly speaks for itself and I believe is best contemplated in silence. Even the Roman Missal says the homily on Palm Sunday should be brief, if one is given at all. Otherwise it says “a period of silence” may be observed after the readings.
In lieu of a video reflection this week I will share with you a short homily I preached for Palm Sunday a couple of years ago, in 2019, on Christ’s Sabbath Rest (coincidentally the one year anniversary of my ordination).
Today is the day when we celebrate Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his entry into his Passion. Today is the day when Christ descends from the Mount of Olives and ascends the hill of Calvary.
Today is the day when Christ is lauded as the Son of David, and condemned as the Son of God. Today is the day when Christ, who humbled himself to be born of the Virgin Mary, taking the form of a slave, empties himself for us. Today is the day when he becomes obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Today is the day when in his humility, Christ is exalted by God.
Let us join the crowd in welcoming him. Let us, who have shouted “Crucify him!” by our sins, now shout “Hosanna!” by our love. Let us go into Jerusalem with him, waving not palm branches, but praise and thanksgiving. Let us lay before him not cloaks, but lives of virtue; not the physical garments that clothe us, but the grace of God which now clothes us in his mercy. Let us welcome our king not with gifts of branches, but with the gift of our lives. Let us praise him with acts of justice and charity. Let us proclaim him by acts of love and forgiveness.
Today we are given a choice: Jesus or Barabbas. Do we choose the one who obeys or the one who rebels? Do we choose the one who heals or the one who murders?
Today we encounter Jesus and his cross. Do we, like Simon, help him to carry it? Today the veil of the Temple is torn in two. Dare we pass through that veil and enter into the presence of our God? We don’t need to: God himself has passed through the veil and entered into our midst. Do we recognize him there on the cross? Do we recognize him laying in the tomb?
The gospel tells of women who followed Jesus from Galilee all the way to the tomb. Do we love Christ enough to follow him that far? This is the invitation Jesus offers each of us today, as he enters into Jerusalem and enters into his Passion: Come, follow me. I am the way, the truth and the life.
We are told that the women prepared spices and perfumed oil for our Lord’s precious body. Let us this week — this Holy Week — prepare our hearts and make them fragrant for the Lord. They anointed his body and then we are told they rested on the sabbath, according to the commandment. What a sabbath that was!
“On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day…” (Gen 2:2). This is the end of the account of the seven days of creation in Genesis; each day ending with “Evening came and morning followed” — each day but the seventh. Evening doesn’t fall on the seventh day until now, as Christ’s body is laid in the tomb. When he rises again, we enter into a new day, an eighth day, the first day of a new creation. Behold, our Lord says. I make all things new.
That is the glory of the Resurrection that lies before us. But today, we enter into that last great Sabbath rest with Christ. Today, we enter into the Silence of death. Let us rest, like those faithful women, by the entrance of his tomb as we await the coming of a new dawn.