Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Palm Sunday – April 9, 2017
Five weeks ago, we stood in this church and received ashes on our foreheads. We were reminded of our mortality, our need for conversion and our need for a deeper and more authentic relationship with Jesus. Those ashes, however, weren’t just scraped together from the bottom of somebody’s fireplace. They were the burned remnants of the palms that were given to us last year on this very day.
Today, we stand here again, five weeks older and – hopefully – five weeks wiser. We hold in our hands not ashes but new palms – symbols of freshness, growth and life.
Our presence, then, begs the question: have we grown and experienced a sense of new life since that Wednesday on the first day of March? … Have we learned anything about ourselves and our relationship with Jesus? … Have we changed at all? … And what will we do with the promise – the potential – that we hold in our hands?
Lent is bracketed – bookended – by palms – the loss and destruction of them at the beginning and new green leaves – restoration – at the end. … Ultimately, that’s what these weeks are all about – burning away, clearing out, and cultivating something new. That is Lent.
So take these palms. Let them be a reminder of this week that we are beginning. But don’t just tuck them behind a picture or crucifix in your house. Let them also serve as a remembrance and a challenge to us of Jesus’ suffering and death – the triumph of his ride into Jerusalem and the tragedy of Calvary. … Let them remind us of the power of God at work in and through Jesus’ embrace of the cross. … And let them especially bear witness to all that we are called to do and to be through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus.
In the verse immediately prior to today’s second reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the apostle emphasizes the responsibility incumbent upon the followers of Jesus who seek a way forward through the struggles of this world. “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, becoming obedient … 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. Jesus displayed a life of humility over and above a life of self-glorification. The radical humility that he showed in taking the form of a slave, in his willingness to follow the divine will, even to the cross, is one that we are called to imitate in our own lives. Indeed, it’s by our embrace and imitation of Jesus’ pattern of living that we’re given the grace to face the crosses of our lives with hope.
Life – with all of its joys and particularly with its struggles and setbacks, its disappointments and fears – always brings us back to Jesus and his powerful example of selfless love – a love that enabled him to face his cross – and through which God restored Jesus – and us – to eternal life.
My brothers and sisters – no matter how tightly we clutch the palms that we carry today – our experience of Holy Week will not bring us a peace that takes away the harsh realities of life that we face each day. It will not cure the illnesses endured by our loved ones or cause life’s disappointments to disappear. It will not eradicate the selfishness and pride that exist in our world that wound our hearts, and destroy our relationships.
But our embrace of the example of Jesus – our efforts to love selflessly and to care for the lives that God has given to us – even as we bear the burden of the crosses that rest on our shoulders – have the power to open our lives the mystery of God’s saving grace. Only by entrusting our lives to the crucified, suffering and risen Jesus will any of us truly be able to face each day – and even death itself – with hope and peace. … Therein, my friends, is the true and lasting gift of Holy Week.