For quite a number of people, the thought of listening to the Passion Reading being read at Mass might be off-putting not because it has no impact but only because it is a long reading and some may have difficulty keeping focus while others may dread having to stand all through it. In fact, the passion of Jesus is read only twice in the Catholic liturgy: once on Palm Sunday, when the account is taken from one of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark or Luke), and again on Good Friday, when John’s Gospel is proclaimed. Whatever can be said about the passion narrative, it certainly brings an immense value and focus to what we are celebrating today and what is in store for the coming week.
Today, we are presented with the Passion and death of Jesus our Saviour in Mark’s Gospel. What really stands out is the way in which Jesus’ earthly life comes to an end – not the way the disciples had expected it to end. That is why our celebration today is a day both of triumph and tragedy. There is the joy of Jesus entering Jerusalem and getting an enthusiastic welcome from the crowds. “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Words we continue to sing at every Mass. But the picture very soon changes to darkness, to suffering and death.
The focus on the passion and death is not primarily towards the suffering that Jesus had to endure but rather focussing on the way of the cross as a means through which the Saviour of the world has won for us the forgiveness of sin and not forgetting, eternal life. The centrality of this victory is beautifully articulated through the words of St Paul in the Second Reading (Philippians 2:6-11): “His state was divine, yet Christ Jesus did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, to accepting death, death on a cross.”
As one author put it, “Jesus was not compelled to do it [accept the cross]. He willingly lowered himself in his birth, in his ministry, in his death. No one took his life from him. He freely laid down his own life (Jn 10:18). Others did not have the chance to humble him; he humbled himself.” This truly sets us on the journey to Golgotha with Jesus because He embraced this way of the cross for each of us.
In all of this, there’s only one thing that stands out – God’s love for us. Jesus laying down His life for His friends [all of us] because of the immensity and intensity of God’s love for all of us – something that the human mind will never fully comprehend. But what is being made real to us is that Palm Sunday reveals that the path to glory is not through self-assertion, or even our own greatness, but rather it is in the absolute dependence of God for everything. From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, we come face to face with Jesus, the Saviour.
In fact, in the coming days, we also come face to face with the reality of how we are to live our lives each day as disciples of Jesus. The crowd that cheered Him on His entry turned to jeering Him when presented by Pilate. The disciples who were His closest friends, abandoned Him at His arrest. Simon Peter who professed his love for Jesus, now denies even knowing Him when questioned.
Jesus took the path to Jerusalem so as to give us new life. As disciples of Jesus, we too must be life-givers to one another. The pandemic has brought us to our knees and the time has come for us to help one another to rebuild our lives. There are so many people out there who are in need – not just financially, but also emotionally and psychologically drained and nothing left to lift their spirits. Here is where we need to be life giving.
Just as Jesus was powerless as He was led to the cross, Simon of Cyrene came to His aid. In this recovery period, we need to be like Simon of Cyrene, stepping forward to help those in need – we need to be pro-active. Perhaps this Holy Week, let’s look out for people from among our circles who may have suddenly gone quiet or aloof. Reach out to them, bring life to them, bring Christ to them. Let us not abandon them or deny them… don’t just stand in the crowd, or run away from them, or pretend that they do not exist. We need to step out like Simon of Cyrene, and help them with the cross.
Palm Sunday (28 March 2021)