Lk 22:14 - 23:56 or 23:1-49
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We come today to the start of a week which brings us to the center and climax of the entire liturgical year and the very heart of the Gospel in which we believe: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
We have been preparing for all of Lent to celebrate the events of these days – events that are so crucial to human history and to our own lives, that they require a whole season of repentance and preparation to celebrate them worthily. We are blessed and privileged to be able to say that we believe that through the events related in the Passion narrative, God has revealed his love for us, he has opened the way for the forgiveness of all our sins, and he has placed in our hands the gift of eternal life.
1. God has revealed his love for us. St. Paul tells the Romans that God demonstrated his love for us precisely in that Christ laid down his life for us sinners. By his decision to go to Jerusalem, he decides at the same time to give his life for us. He knew exactly what was going to happen to him and consented to it fully.
His entry into the city is triumphant. The acclaim that greeted him is in stark contrast to the shouts of the crowd on Friday saying, “Crucify him!” At the same time, the triumph of Palm Sunday represents the fact that by coming to Jerusalem, he is in fact bringing about the triumph of grace over sin and life over death. His being lifted up on the cross is in fact a lifting up in glory. What we see there is not weakness, but strength – the strength to give one’s life for others who need to be saved. What we see there is the triumphant victory of obedience over rebellion. Christ is obedient to the Father, even to death, to undo our disobedience which led to death.
We can say that those who acclaimed Christ as he entered Jerusalem didn’t realize how right they were. There was more to celebrate than met the eye or that could meet their minds. Love was about to be revealed in a way that would change human history and usher in the Kingdom of salvation.
At the beginning of Christianity, some claimed wrongly that Jesus did not really suffer in his passion, but only appeared to suffer. The Church teaches, however, that “he suffered death and was buried.” This is an article of faith. His suffering and death were real – and that makes his love all the more clear.
2. God has opened the way for the forgiveness of our sins. What came upon the shoulders of Jesus when the cross was laid upon him? What came upon his head when the crown of thorns was placed upon him? What came upon his body when the lashes were carried out against him? Our sins came upon him. As a Holy Week hymn says,
“Who was the guilty?
Who brought this upon Thee?
Alas, my treason,
Jesus, has undone Thee.
I am the guilty.
I it was denied Thee.
I crucified Thee.”
This is the day, and this is the Mass, in which we all reaffirm, with utter conviction and profound gratitude, that the forgiveness of our sins flows from the blood of His cross, and that we are to run to the cross yet again as the only place from which we can find that forgiveness.
3. The events of this day bring eternal life to the world. God is in the business of destroying death. He submits to it and then robs it of his power through his resurrection. Our entire faith is centered on these events. All the sacraments and all our prayers derive their effectiveness from these events. Every teaching of the Church and all the preaching throughout the world is for the purpose of announcing these events. The whole purpose of the Church and all its ministries is to apply the fruits of these events to every human being and to society itself.
God destroys death, and he continues to do so through us. The events related this day make us the People of Life. They renew our conviction that God cares about human life, and that we must as well. In the light of the passion and death of Christ, which is the passion and death of God himself, no human being can be indifferent to violence. In the light of what Christ did to rescue us from death, we realize our call to rescue others from death. This rescue starts with the most vulnerable human beings in our midst, the children still living within their mothers’ wombs, and deprived of the right to life by abortion. Some are tempted to take life rather than sacrifice themselves to protect and nurture it. Yet when we see what God has done for us, we find that the very meaning of life is to give ourselves for the good of the other. In the light of Palm Sunday, it makes no sense to hold back on our love, or our sacrifice on behalf of human life.
And it is that simple truth that the palm branches we carry home today are meant to remind us of throughout the year. Let us run to the cross of Christ, thanking him for the eternal life he brings, and resolving to be the People of Life in the world.