Palm Sunday – April 14, 2019
Last year, Pope Francis began his homily for Palm Sunday with these words: “Today’s liturgy invites us to share in the joy and celebration of the people who cry out in praise of their Lord; a joy that will fade and leaves a bitter and sorrowful taste by the end of the account of the Passion. This celebration seems to combine stories of joy and suffering, mistakes and successes, which are part of our daily lives as disciples. It somehow expresses the contradictory feelings that we too, the men and women of today, experience: the capacity for great love but also for great hatred; the capacity for courageous self-sacrifice, but also the ability to “wash our hands” at the right moment; the capacity for loyalty, but also for great abandonment and betrayal.”
Pope Francis’ observations a year ago are quite prophetic today, aren’t they? Each of us brings many different feelings and experiences to this moment that marks the beginning of Holy Week – feelings and experiences that flow from our lives and that are validated by the scriptures that we’ve heard this afternoon – from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem – through his passion – to his death on the cross.
Where, then, do we see ourselves most clearly in today’s scriptures? For as different as our lives may be, one from another, if we’ve listened carefully enough we will find ourselves somewhere in the stories of faith that begin on Palm Sunday and that end on the cross of Calvary.
As fragile human beings, we may very well see ourselves like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, begging the Father to allow the cross to pass him by. Don’t we often plead with God to let the cross of suffering pass us by, to cure our illnesses or to lift from us the grief that comes from the loss of those we love? … Yet, in the midst of our struggles, do we ever proclaim, like Jesus in the midst of his prayer for relief and comfort, “Not my will, Father, but yours be done”?
Some of us are determined to live our beliefs boldly and to reflect the example of Jesus’ life in our own. Do we understand, however, that authentic discipleship calls us to make the entire life of Jesus a pattern for our own lives – which means not only feeding the poor but also forgiving those who hurt us or those we love? … Or are we more likely to react to conflict with anger and bitterness, like the disciple who lashed out at the high priest’s servant and cut off his ear in the moment of Jesus’ betrayal?
Many of us proudly affirm our faith for all to see. … So did Peter – who denied Jesus as he was led to his death.
And as a Church, we bring an awareness of the sin of Church leaders to this Holy Week, the likes of which we have never experienced before in our lives nor in our Church’s recent history. … For so many of us, when confronted with the suffering of innocents, the words of the psalmist may likely reflect the sentiments we hold in our hearts, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
With all that we are and with the feelings that we bring, we really do come to this moment at the beginning of Holy Week looking for something more, don’t we? We come seeking God’s mercy, strength and peace. … And despite all that seems to overwhelm us, the good news of the Gospel message is that we will not be disappointed in our seeking – for God is faithful, even when we are not!
Ironically, our way forward, brothers and sisters, is found in the very crosses that we seek to avoid in life. These crosses, by their nature, prompt us to do the one and only thing that has the power to save us. They compel us to trust in God – because they are beyond our ability to fix, resolve or rationalize away. And when we are humble enough to trust – as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane – when we have nowhere else to turn – it is then that Jesus is given room in our lives to carry us to a place of life and peace.
Make no mistake – our experience of Holy Week will not take away the harsh realities of life that we face each day. But our authentic embrace of the example of Jesus – even in the midst of the crosses that we carry – does have the power to open our lives the mystery of God’s saving grace. Only by placing our lives in the hands of God and by trusting in Jesus’ powerful example of selfless love will any of us truly be able to face each day – and even death itself – with hope and peace.
Therein, my friends, is the blessing and the promise of Holy Week.