Palm Sunday 2014
Some years ago I was privileged to lead a group of pilgrims to the Holy land, and I had the thrill of walking down the very road that Jesus must have ridden down on the donkey, when the crowds laid leaves and palms before him, welcoming Him and praising Him as their long-awaited Messiah. It is an ancient road that winds down the hill which is directly across the Kidron Valley from the hill of Moriah in old Jerusalem, the hill on which the temple of Jerusalem was built by Solomon and rebuilt by Herod the great at the time of Jesus. It was just a 15 minute walk down to the valley, passing by the ancient Garden of Gethsemane with its ancient olive trees, and my mind and heart were filled with wonder as I imagined the scene in today’s Gospel, the narrow road crowded with people joyfully praising and welcoming Jesus as he rode along.
I could imagine Jesus looking away from the crowd to the elevated temple across the valley dominating the old city, and I tried to ponder what might have been going though his mind and heart. I was quite aware that sinners like myself obviously cannot expect to penetrate very far into the depths of His soul, for these depths were surely an abyss that only He could penetrate. Still, I became quite confident during my walking meditation of two things found in reading the Gospels that open His mind to us.
First, Jesus, unlike one of us perhaps, would not have been in any way misled by this tumultuous welcome into thinking that maybe he would not have to undergo the passion after all, the passion that he had just been foretelling to his apostles as they made their last trip together to Jerusalem. As St. John says earlier in his Gospel, Jesus always knew what was in the hearts of men, that he needed no one to tell him what men were thinking, and so he knew as he rode along just how shallow all this praise really was, and how soon it would turn into cries for his crucifixion. Even his enemies knew that he was simply not susceptible to flattery; he had an infallible sense of when men were either playing him false and giving him a praise that was only hollow and shallow, with no roots, like on this day. He knew what was in their hearts, just as knows what is in ours. He knows how fickle, how false, how shallow we all can be with God, and he is not fooled by any of us.
Secondly, and definitely much more important for us, the Gospels make it clear that he was absolutely determined to accomplish his mission just as it was destined to unfold, because it was the will of His Father and because it was the remedy for our sinfulness. He had, as Luke says (9:51), “set his face steadfastly” on the path to Jerusalem, the Jerusalem he would weep over for all it’s falseness, it’s flattery, it’s history of betrayal and persecution of the prophets, for there and only there, was it determined by the will of His Father that the salvation of man should be finally accomplished.
What a mixture of emotions must have filled his soul as he rode along. He was determined to lay down his life to save the human race which deserved, like Jerusalem’s leaders, “to die in their sins,” and he would not allow anything to deter him from this great destiny. It could have been another way that we would be redeemed, but this was the way chosen by the Father. But why this way? Surely it has to be this awful way because He knew what was in our hearts, he truly knew just how desperate our situation would always be, even with God’s redeeming grace because we are so weak, so rebellious, so sinful and so ungrateful at times, even ungrateful for his great sacrifice.
So He loved us to the end, as John records (Jn. 13:2), and He loved His Father more than life itself, and He truly loved His whole creation with a love that would not allow that God’s human family should be destroyed by its own evil. It is this great love of God in His human heart that drives Jesus forward to Jerusalem, just as the Spirit had driven him into the desert at the beginning of his public mission. Now the Spirit propels him freely into the great city that had stoned the prophets, the fickle city of man, that would hail him today and demand his blood just a few days hence. It is this unfathomable love of God that we will recall and celebrate this week, the love that made him surrender to the Cross so that we might have a chance to experience the glory and Happiness of the resurrection and Heaven.
Holy Mother Church invites each of us to make this week truly holy, beginning today, continuing steadfastly to the commemoration of the institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday evening with a prayer vigil and adoration following until midnight. The Our Mother calls her children, redeemed by the blood of her spouse, the lamb, to set aside time on Good Friday to sanctify the three hours of Jesus agony on the Cross. How many Christians, nonetheless, will coldly treat this as a day of business as usual, and yet claim to understand and reciprocate the love of Christ?
And finally Our Mother the Church invites us all to rejoice with all of creation on Easter Sunday. She will receive many new converts throughout the world at the beautiful Easter Vigil Mass, which is the most solemn of all the Easter Masses, beginning with the lighting of the Easter Candle and the greeting of the risen the first time, and followed by the celebration of the sacraments which gave us new life in Christ. And this joyous festivity will continue in all the Masses of Easter Sunday morning everywhere there is an altar and a priest. All of these sacred liturgies are but a return of love from the Bride to the Bridegroom, our way of saying to Christ, we are your eternally grateful and loving people, who will one day never grow tired of singing your praises. May it be truly a time of special grace for all of us who have been called out of our darkness into His own wonderful light, and are now privileged to truly be his brothers and sisters, forever. Amen.