• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

Palm Sunday (B)

“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord ...”

Entrance Antiphon: Mt 21:9 – “Hosanna to the Son of David, the King of Israel. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”

Gospel at Procession: Mk 11:1-10 – “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

First Reading: Is 50:4-7 – “My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting knowing that I shall not be put to shame.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24 – “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?”

Second Reading: Phil 2:6-11 – “Christ humbled Himself. Because of this God greatly exalted Him.”

Verse before the Gospel: Phil 2:8-9 – “Christ became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.”

Gospel: Mk 14:1-15:47 – “The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ”

Communion Antiphon: Mt 26:42 – “Father, if this chalice cannot pass without My drinking it, Your will be done.”

A man wearing a “John 3:16” sweatshirt boarded a New York subway and sat down. The man next to him said, “If you don’t mind my asking, what’s this ‘John 3:16?’ I’m not religious, just curious.” The man in the sweatshirt recited the verse. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” “I don’t understand,” the questioner said. “I don’t either,” said the man in the sweatshirt. “I can’t fathom how God could send His Son to die for us. But I don’t need to understand in order to be grateful.”

Everything in Saint Mark’s Gospel is intended first to ask, and then to answer the following two questions: “Who is this man?” and “Why did He come?”

So we have two stumbling blocks. We’ve heard the Passion story many times. It’s easy to put the chronology of events on automatic pilot without thinking much about them ... especially without worship aids, right? How many of you did that today? And my response is that it is unfortunate if you did … because that restricts you to a relatively superficial understanding and appreciation of what was proclaimed today. Saint Jerome once compared the Bible to a bottomless pool … We will never reach a point where we have absorbed all that the Bible has to offer. And I believe this is particularly true of the Passion, the Death, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sometimes, with all of the details of celebrating Easter with family and friends ... especially now that we have a vaccine and many restrictions are being eased, perhaps many of us will again push the reason for celebrating Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter into the background. A celebratory meal and even a new piece of “Easter apparel” are very appropriate, but with the reading of the Passion today on Palm Sunday, we are reminded to be conscious of the very events that are the reason for our celebration next weekend … we need to remember the events of the Last Supper … the Agony in the Garden … the Trial and Conviction … and finally the Torture, the Crucifixion, and the Death of Jesus. And I think it is all the more relevant because we couldn’t celebrate these things as a church last year ...

At the Last Supper, Jesus had told His disciples several times that His death was imminent. And they were disbelieving. Then He says that one of them would betray Him. Now they are overloaded with disbelief. But consider this … in countries run by ruthless military dictatorships … or perhaps those who live in the shadow of a militant Islamic sect … those who speak out for justice know that death … often preceded by unspeakable torture … is a near certainty. Their families know that any meal may be the last one they will share together. Often … they are betrayed by someone they trusted. They accept this, just as Jesus accepted His coming death. The motive is the same … love for those who will benefit from what they do.

Next, there is the Agony in the Garden. Saint Thomas More in his work, The Sadness of Christ, described this event as “A huge mass of troubles that took possession of the tender and gentle body of our most holy Savior. He knew that His ordeal was now imminent and just about to overtake Him … the treacherous betrayer … the bitter enemies … binding ropes … false accusations … slanders … blows … thorns … nails … and the cross … horrible tortures stretched out over many hours ... The gathered storm of all these evils rushed into His most gentle heart and flooded it like the ocean sweeping through broken dikes.”

As we listened to the trial and conviction, it’s easy to feel outraged at the behavior of the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders … the official leaders of the Jewish faith. The trial is a mockery of justice. The men who should have modeled love spout one lie after another in order to murder the One who was Love Incarnate. We should grow indignant at the behavior of the leaders, but we should also save some of that indignance for ourselves. Remember … our own sins helped create this scene. Jesus died once for all … for the sins committed past, present, and future.

And finally, there’s the torture, the crucifixion, and the death of Jesus. We’ve become so accustomed to seeing a crucifix that we don’t think about the horrific pain a crucifixion inflicted. In Jesus’ case, the actual crucifixion had been preceded by thorns driven into His skull and a scourging so severe that it is known that some men died from it. The scream of Jesus, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” was not a line given Him to speak while knowing that a happy ending was just around the corner. The scream was one of abandonment … which … at the same time … wanted to keep a connection with the Father.

Eighteen years ago, I was in my first year of seminary when Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” first came out … on Ash Wednesday, the entire seminary community went to a theatre nearby and watched it. The scenes of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday took on a whole new life and a whole new meaning for me, my classmates and professors, and probably for many of you as well. Watching the movie has become a tradition for me on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday every year since 2003. As we listened to Saint Mark’s version of Jesus’ Passion today and as we will hear Saint John’s version on Good Friday, we need to immerse ourselves in these scenes from time to time to deepen our understanding of God’s redeeming love for us.

So, as we enter and go about this Holy Week, resolve to carve out a niche of time each day and spend it immersed in these scenes that demonstrate the immensity of God’s love. The Prayers of the Faithful will conclude the Liturgy of the Word and we begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist … and in a little while, we will receive the sacramental Body and Blood of Jesus who gave Himself up to death that we might have life. If you really think about it … about all we can do … about all we should do … like that man on the subway in my beginning story … is to render thanks.

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