Palm Sunday – March 24, 2024

There is a certain tension in today’s Palm Sunday Liturgy, isn’t there?  We begin with a sense of celebration as we carry palm branches and echo the hosannas shouted by the people of Jerusalem as Jesus enters the city.  We end with the account of Jesus’ passion and death that confronts us with our own complicity in the injustice, fear and hatred that ultimately leads to the cross.

This tension that permeates today’s liturgy reflects so much of what we experience in life, doesn’t it?   …  We seek peace and harmony in our lives and in our families.  Yet, we so often stoke fires of division and alienation.  …  We struggle to do the good, while yielding to self-consumed needs and desires.  …  And most pointedly on this day, we are reminded by the word of God that the faith we profess with our lips does not always reflect what we profess by our lives.

In Saint Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi, proclaimed just a few moments ago, we’re reminded that through Jesus’ immersion into our world, his suffering and his death, we’re given a way forward despite the tensions that envelope our lives.  And this way is revealed to us the more we open our hearts to God and seek to make as our own the depth of trust and confidence in God’s mercy and love that enabled Jesus to face his death.

The verse immediately prior to Saint Paul’s words proclaimed today gives us a clue into how this revelation comes to pass.  For those seeking Jesus’ promise of life and peace, “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is in Christ Jesus.”

And what was the attitude of Jesus?  …  The scripture passage tells us that Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave – a servant – even to the point of death on a cross.”

It’s this attitude that we are called to embrace as we gather at the beginning of Holy Week.  The radical humility that Jesus showed in eschewing self-glorification, assuming the role of a selfless servant and embracing his Father’s will, even to the cross, is what we are called to make as our own.  It is only through our imitation of Jesus’ pattern of living that we will ever discover the means to face the challenges of life with hope and be given a taste of God’s enduring peace.

Life – with its joys – but particularly with its struggles and setbacks, its disappointments and fears – always brings us back to Calvary – to Jesus’ trust in his Father’s will – and to his powerful lesson of selfless love.

Recall the final words spoken by Jesus in today’s Passion narrative.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  While a desperate cry to God in the midst of the agony of the cross, this verse from the 22nd Psalm also evokes the wisdom of the entire psalm.  Yes, it begins with a question about the presence of God in the face of suffering.  It ends, however, with words of praise for God’s mercy and fidelity.  “The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought.”

My brothers and sisters, as we stand on the threshold of Holy Week, our faith calls us to affirm that God has indeed delivered us from the darkness of sin and the brokenness of our world.

Make no mistake; our experience of this 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 life and our willingness to care for the lives that God has given to us – even as we bear the crosses laid upon our shoulders – do have the power to open our lives the mystery of God’s saving grace.  Only by trusting in God’s will and by making Jesus’ powerful example of selfless love our own, will we be able to face each day – and even death itself – with hope and peace.

Therein, my friends, is the true and lasting message of Holy Week