Although most everyone calls today Palm Sunday, today is properly called Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. In the opening Gospel we recall the wonderful account of Jesus entering Jerusalem. We get to get to celebrate, wave palms, and greet the Messiah. It is a moment of joy.
It is all rather short lived. Not only in history, but in our liturgy, too. As soon as our entrance procession is over, the readings take on a decidedly different tone. There was a time when I thought that reading the Passion was jumping the gun a bit. I mean, won’t Good Friday arrive in its own good time? Can’t we let the week unfold, walking the journey with Jesus as he spends the week? Can’t we wait to hear about the Last Supper, the betrayal, Gethsemane, the trials, Pontius Pilate, scouring, the crucifixion, and Jesus dead, laid in a tomb? What is the rush?
Life is busy and we don’t always get to walk the road with Jesus. Blink. The next thing we know it’s Easter, Christ is Resurrected. There is the easy temptation to think: “oh…look, it all works out, Jesus wins.” There it is: the glory of God revealed in the Resurrection.
In time I have come to appreciate reading the Passion today. I think it points to the heart of Holy Week. It’s complicated. It’s intense. And it rushes at us all at once. We need to sit with the story for a few days before we celebrate the particulars of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. We need time to let it rummage around and let it find its home within us.
In many ways, Holy Week holds within it our entire human story — all of the hope, tragedy, love, and joy that shapes our days. It reveals to us the horrors of injustice, but it also shows us the deepest love the world has ever seen. As we move from the intimacy of the Last Supper, to the agony of Gethsemane, to the desolation of Golgotha, we can find traces of our own stories — stories of friendship and betrayal, fervor and futility, hope and humiliation. We need time to let it rummage around and let it find its home within us.
This is Jesus, fully divine and fully human, already entered into the fullness of the human condition: blindness, lepers, the lame, those needed healing, a lack of faith, hopelessness, and more. He encountered it all; he healed, taught, performed miracles and mighty works. We are amazed. Then he is transfigured on the mountaintop and we see the inner glory of the Son of God just as we begin our Lenten journey.
Here on Palm Sunday we need the Passion reading to see ourselves, not only in the rejoicing crowds, but to see ourselves turn on Jesus as he encounters the darker part of the human condition, the stiff-necked, unrepentant part of people. The part of us that, like Judas, is capable of deceit and betrayal. The part of us that is still mired in sin. We need to encounter all that and realize we need a Savior, one who has to atone for all our mistakes, who has to suffer to make amends to God on our behalf. Who has to die so that all be saved. We need time to let it rummage around and let it find its home within us.
Jesus suffered and died for us, but where previously he had healed, now in Holy Week, in his Passion, Jesus enters into the part of humanity where darkness dwells.
Before he stood outside the tomb and called Lazarus out, now he enters the place where people are entombed. Where there is torture, brokenness, bondage, hopelessness, and abandonment. The place where he hears the voices of the faithful, the lost, the despairing, and those who are afflicted and feel as though there is no place left for hope. He enters into the darkness, into suffering, into death.
He enters through the betrayal, Gethsemane, the trials, Pontius Pilate, scouring, the crucifixion, and death, Jesus enters into the darkest part of humanity. Where he is tortured, broken, held in bondage, scourged and crucified – helpless in the hands of Roman power and corrupt religious authorities. Now, there is no vestige of human experience untouched by God. “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, …he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6,8) He is on the cross. His voice joins the chorus. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus dies and he now lies in the tomb.
It is easy to see the Resurrection as the glory of God revealed. But there is more. The Passion is the glory of God on full display. Such is the love of God for us. The glory of God displayed as a Love so vast, a desire that all be saved that runs so deep, that God holds back nothing. Nothing. Not even his only Son. Such love. Such love. Such is the glory of God.
Holy Week is a journey into the Glory of God, rightly understood. We need time to let it rummage around and let it find its home within us. For me, it makes Holy Thursday a little richer. To understand the Word of God, who stepped down in humility to pitch his tent with us; who stepped down to wash his disciples feet; it is to know that Jesus will step down even further into the full darkness of my human condition. That all might be saved; all will be converted – even the most broken part of our lives. So, when Jesus asks the Apostles on Holy Thursday, “Do you know what I have done for you?” I need to consider the question anew. Do I really understand what He has done for us?
Holy Week begins today. And by Sunday morning we pray we will be closer to being able to more completely answer that question. We need time to let it rummage around and let it find its home within us.