Word & word: the Sunday of the Passion | Palm Sunday

From the Liturgy of the Palms
Luke 19:28-40

After telling a parable to the crowd at Jericho, Jesus went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

We sometimes call this Jesus’ triumphal entry into the Jerusalem, into the Holy City. And it can look and feel like that: crowds, shouts of hosanna, adulation and expectation all around.
But as we enter into Holy Week, as we later in this same Eucharistic celebration hear the telling of his final sacrifice in the Passion, I think of this moment of entry instead as the revelation of Jesus’ willingness to give all. The entire Gospel moves in this direction, but at this moment, on the colt, entering the city that is at once his and not his, that willingness to give all begins its last and definitive movements.
With every step his steed takes, with every shout of the crowd, with every palm branch waved, Jesus is inwardly and outwardly saying yes to his gift of Body and Blood at the Last Supper, yes to his agonizing prayer in Gethsemane, yes to the sweat dropping there like blood, yes to the betrayal by Judas, to the denials by Peter, to the trial, to the condemnation, to the long walk to the hill, to the crucifixion, to the pain, to the loneliness, to the suffering, to the death. Because of the strength of divine love expressed in humanity, he is able to say, “Yes.”
During Holy Week we witness all this as it is retold and made present in ritual and prayer. We can be tempted to think of all this as belonging to the fate of Jesus, and him alone. It is his story, but is it not also mine and yours?
As he took this long lonely walk to the hill for me, his saving action raises a question to my heart. There is mutuality in relationship, and we live in relation to the Christ. If I call him my Savior what am I willing, in return for his sacrifice, to do for him?
Am I willing in my own life to live not for self alone, but for others?
Am I willing to go where I would not rather go. where there is misunderstanding and opposition, loneliness and pain?
Am I willing to give my own body and blood for the sake of others, for the sake of community, for the sake of a transformed world?
Am I willing to die so that someone else might live?
Am I able to believe that beyond all loneliness, all suffering, all death, there is good, there is life?
Am I able to love with that strength?
This week calls me to wrestle with these questions as Jesus’ wrestles with and accepts the will of the Father. If I can, if you can, if we can recommit ourselves to lives in Christ that look and feel and sound and act like “yes” to all these questions (which in the end are only one question), what might that mean for our place and time, for this world, for the life of human society, for the tenor of our culture, for the possibilities lying ahead?
If we commit to live life as one Holy Week, everything in us and around will bloom – whatever pain might come. This is to live life at a depth level that may frighten us, but will without doubt reveal to us our own deepest call and dignity.

A Prayer for Holy Week

Lord Jesus Christ, in this sacred and solemn week when we see again the depth and mystery of your redeeming love, help us to follow where you go, to stop where you stumble, to listen when you cry, to hurt as you suffer, to bow our heads in sorrow as you die, so that, when you are raised to life again, we may share in your endless joy. Amen.

(“Celebrating God’s Presence” UCPH 2000)

Image from the Passion Play at OberammergauJesus_enters_Jerusalem_02

2 thoughts on “Word & word: the Sunday of the Passion | Palm Sunday

  1. Thank you, John, for helping me to wonder about my inmost connections to Christ’s passion this Holy Week.

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