Palm Sunday – C

Readings: Is 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Lk 22:14-23:56

HOSANNA! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!

There’s an old story of the boy who stood on a sidewalk, waiting for a bus. A man walking by spotted the boy, and gave him some gentle instruction. “Son,” he said, “if you’re waiting for the bus, you need to move to the street corner. That’s where the bus stops for passengers.”

“It’s OK,” said the boy. “I’ll just wait right here, and the bus will stop for me.”

The man repeated his argument, but the boy never moved. Just then, the bus appeared. Amazingly, the bus pulled over to where the boy stood, and the child hopped on. The man on the sidewalk stood speechless. The boy turned around in the doorway and said, “Mister, I knew the bus would stop here, because the bus driver is my dad!”

When you’ve got a family relationship with the bus driver, you don’t need a bus stop. If your mother is a US Senator, you won’t need an appointment to slip into her office. If you’ve given your heart to the King of Kings, you’re in a royal family of unspeakable proportions. We belong to Jesus… all the way…

I read this one I received on last Sunday. It told the story of a little boy who had to stay home from church because he had a cold. After the service, his older sister came home, waving her palm frond in the air. “What’s that?” asked the little boy.

She answered smugly, “We wave these in the air and then put them on the ground to welcome Jesus.”

The boy started wailing and fled the room. When his mother held him and asked what was wrong, he said through his tears, “The one Sunday I don’t go to church, Jesus showed up!”

Today’s the day Jesus shows up in our churches, in our hearts, in our minds. We’ve been waiting for him all our lives. Are you ready? Will you be there? Don’t let any ailment —physical, emotional or spiritual — keep you from the warmth of Jesus’ dramatic entrance into our lives.

(1) All four Gospels tell of the life of Christ differently. But in telling the story of the Passion, they are virtually identical.

(2) The Passion story – first item in story-telling tradition of early Church before written narrative.

(3) Story of the Cross was the biggest problem for early Christians – “Jews wanted signs; the Greeks, wisdom; for Jews the Cross was a hurdle, for Greeks, foolishness” (1 Cor.1:22-23)

(4) Heavy emphasis upon discipleship – privileged group; constant companions; authority to cast out demons and to preach.

(5) No models – many failures; jealous; did not understand; wanted to call down fire and brimstone on those who did not agree.

(6) Passion story highlights these failures – 1 betrays; 3 go to sleep; 1 denies; and all flee; only one returned to be by the Cross; a stranger attended to Christ’s burial; and it was the loyal band of women who remained closest and were the eventual messengers to the Apostles that Christ had risen.

Gospel at the Procession with Palms
Luke 19:28-40 – Jesus sends his disciples for a colt and then rides into Jerusalem.

First Reading
Isaiah 50:4-7 – The Lord’s Servant will stand firm, even when persecuted.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 22:8-9,17-20,23-24 – A cry for help to the Lord in the face of evildoers.

Second Reading
Philippians 2:6-11 – Christ was obedient even to death, but God has exalted him.

Gospel Reading
Luke 22:14—23:56 (shorter form: Luke 23:1-49)

From the Cross, Jesus speaks words of forgiveness and promises that the good thief will be with him in paradise.

As she does every year, today the Church invites us into a journey – the journey of Holy Week – during which we are given the opportunity to reflect upon the painful sequence of events in the life of Jesus – beginning with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem that we commemorate today through the events of the Last Supper, his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and betrayal to his crucifixion and death – sobering events, each of which must take place for God to glorify Jesus – and to bring salvation to a broken world – through his resurrection.

We begin with the Gospel for the Blessing of Palms that sets the stage for the journey. It’s noteworthy to begin this reflection by taking a look at the role of the crowds in Jerusalem. On Palm Sunday, they cried out: “Hosanna! Blesssed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Yet, the Passion narrative that we just concluded reminds us that on Good Friday, they cried out a different message: “Crucify him!”

The same people – changing their minds? Perhaps some are the same. But before we chastise them for their fickle ways, let’s take some care to assess where we stand along the way – for therein can be found the real blessing of the journey and the hope that is given to us, through faith.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the Gospel narrative of the Passion that we just heard today is the WAY in which we heard it. Holy Week is the only time that the Gospel is proclaimed by someone besides a bishop, priest or deacon. Every individual in this church takes part. It’s a great privilege. It gives us a role in Christ’s Passion. But what do we say? Listen to the lines that we are given: “Not this one! Give us Barabbas!” “Hail, King of the Jews!” “Take him away. Crucify him.”

We’re the mob. And we assist in condemning Christ to death. And the great irony, of course, is that we do it while clutching palm branches. We might take offense at this statement, but we’re really no different than the crowds in Jerusalem. We start out acting like angels, singing “Hosanna.” And we end up just being the mob.

No – we’re not the worst people who ever lived – far from it. Yet for the journey of this Holy Week to have meaning, we must own our place within it. To be a part of the Body of Christ is to be with him on the Cross. To be a member of the church is to both acknowledge our sinfulness and the potential for good within us.

The Church, you and me, this gathering of God’s people on Palm Sunday, with Jesus in our midst, is no different than an earlier gathering – at the crucifixion when Jesus hung in the midst of two thieves – two broken, sinful men, still maintaining – at the very end – a potential for good within themselves. One of those thieves, in another passion narrative, taps that potential through faith and gives us words to live by: “Jesus, remember me.”

Isn’t that what this journey – the journey of Holy Week and the journey of our lives as Christians – is all about? “Jesus, remember me as I carry my cross. Let my cross – because of your Cross – become life-giving, transforming and redemptive.”

Indeed, the Cross of Calvary has the power to speak to every cross that finds its way to our shoulders – mine and yours. It speaks to crosses that we create as a result of our abuse and lack of respect of others, our greed, pride and selfishness. The Cross of Calvary speaks to the crosses that emerge as we worry for loved ones, wait for lab results, cope with loss and estrangement, as we try to figure out what to do in the wake of a job loss or financial catastrophe, as we find ourselves burdened with the frailty of age.

As the Cross of Calvary speaks to us in our brokenness, and sinfulness, we ask that Jesus remember us. We pray that we may be better than we are, and receive better than we deserve. We pray that we, who often deserve to be forgotten, may be remembered.

And, my sisters and brothers, we will find the strength to open our lives to Jesus and the Cross of Calvary through the Eucharist that we celebrate this day. For in this sacrament, the passion, death and resurrection that Jesus experienced is made present time and again in our lives. This presence enables us to share in the benefits of Jesus’ Cross. Because of it, we CAN speak of seeing through our crosses and of our dying to sin and rising to new life because we participate in the very mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

With faith, then, may we begin the journey of this Holy Week with the recognition that the crosses that we carry are not empty burdens with little value. When embraced with faith and the recognition of the need in our lives for a power bigger than ourselves through which we find meaning and hope, every cross – because of Jesus’ Cross – can be carried into the world of God’s redeeming love and embracing grace.

This is the world that Jesus proclaimed as he entered Jerusalem in triumph on Palm Sunday, fully aware that his Cross was a prelude – not only to his death but also to his glorious resurrection.

Spiritual writer Henri Nouwen as quoted by Fr. Joseph Galdon, SJ has a very good reflection about love. He says that if we are going to be good lovers, we have to exercise three Cs – we have to be Competent, Compassionate and Contemplative.

Love is Competence. It means that we have to be good in everything we do. As Fr. Galdon added: “If we are going to be good lovers we have to be ‘GGs’ – Good Guys or Good Girls. We have to be a good husband or a good wife, a good parent or a good child, a good brother or a good sister.” Love also means that we have to be good in our work because our work should be a work of love to help others. Also, being good in life!”

We have to be Compassionate. We must sympathize with everyone in our lives especially those who need us. Compassion means to love, to be supremely concerned with what is good for others and not just what is good for us.

We must be a Contemplative person. We have to pray. To be a great lover is to be a good prayer.

Conclusion: The Passion story reveals the disciples for what they were, and it contains a powerful message on the essence of discipleship. Hopefully, the liturgical services of this coming week may help us to evaluate our discipleship – betrayal, denial and our faith.

Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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