Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
The readings for the day can be found here.
I have not acted since my days of high school theatre, but I will always remember the empathetic process involved in delving into the emotions and motivations of a character. I’m reminded of this process as I reflect on today’s readings from Sacred Scripture, because I cannot help—in true Ignatian form—but allow my imagination to be drawn into the story. And what a story! This is certainly not the medium to attempt an insightful walk-through of our Lord’s Passion, so I merely offer a few insights as an invitation to enter into the story in a new way this Holy Week.
Although the use of imaginative prayer may be somewhat foreign to those unfamiliar with Ignatian spirituality, the Palm Sunday liturgy invites us to be more than spectators: we wave palms in jubilant procession, sing “Hosanna!”, and later cry out “Crucify him!”. All of this not only literally revitalizes the Gospel message but also reminds us that each of us plays a part in this great drama of salvation history.
I am always struck by the stark dichotomy presented in today’s two Gospel readings. At first, the people of Jerusalem praise, honor and glorify Jesus with great joy for all he is and all he has done. The kingdom of God is so tangible, even the stones are about to proclaim its coming! Yet a few days later, the same crowd becomes an angry, vicious mob. Even many of Jesus’ closest disciples abandon, deny, or betray him. Upon hearing this story, a common temptation I often face is to think, “Isn’t that just terrible? Silly crowd! Foolish disciples!” If I’m being completely honest, however, I see myself in that crowd, at that table, and outside that garden. I realize how often my own relationship with God and God’s People vacillates between these two extremes, and I ponder with wonder the words: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” For although an honest recognition of our own sinfulness is appropriate, the true power of this love story lies in the prophetic, salvific actions of Jesus Christ.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, poetically emphasizes Christ’s humble obedience. His submission to death on a cross is not only a sacrificial act of love but also—and perhaps less obviously—a true testament to the reality of the Incarnation. In other words, Jesus entered so fully into our human experience that he fully embraced true human suffering. Though the words of the Responsorial Psalm undeniably prefigure the suffering and death of Jesus, it’s interesting to think that the prayer was actually composed several centuries before Jesus was born. While none of us will likely experience a death like Jesus’, each of us has felt abandoned by God at one time or another; we should take heart, then, knowing Jesus humbled himself so as to know us more deeply. My own Lenten journey and the weeks leading up to it have been filled with experiences of both joy and suffering, love and heartbreak. Because of Jesus, I know that this is not the end: redemption, healing, and life everlasting lie ahead.
So as we progress through Holy Week and commemorate our Lord’s Passion, I invite us to enter in anew. Let us have the courage to intertwine our stories with God’s story ever more deeply, the humility to recognize our reliance on God, and the strength to carry our own crosses as Christ did.