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Palm/Passion Sunday

March 20, 2005

Blessed Palm Sunday!

We are entering into the most holy days of the Church year, gearing up to unite ourselves with Jesus in His Passion and death as He leads us through tragedy into triumph. You will notice that we do not celebrate any saints this week or next. Nothing, not even the Solemnity of the Annunciation (which would fall on Good Friday this year and has been transferred to the Monday after Easter Week–nine months to Christmas!), may interrupt these high holy days.

+Matthew 21:1-11 (Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem)
Isaiah 50:4-7 (God’s noble servant is not deterred by suffering and insult)
Psalm 22:8-24 “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Philippians 2:6-11 (because Jesus emptied Himself, God has exalted Him)
+Matthew 26:14-27:66 (Jesus’ Passion and death)

It’s the season of Passover, and all of Israel is converging on Jerusalem to celebrate their deliverance from the land of Egypt, to make that sense of deliverance present and personal, and to look forward to the deliverance yet to come. It’s something of a national independence day with deep religious roots. The Passover supper will end with the shout, “Next year in Jerusalem! Next year, may all be free!” But Jerusalem is not free. Roman soldiers patrol the streets and despised Roman tax collectors sort their haul of coins beside the road.

There’s a stir on the road of pilgrimage. The popular young miracle-worker is riding toward Jerusalem on a donkey, thronged by disciples who are paving the road with their cloaks, waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” It’s a victory parade, and everyone wants to be in on the action. Even better, it fulfills a prophesy about the Messiah (Isaiah 62:11, Zechariah 9:9). Is this finally the promised Messiah, the one who will kick the occupying Roman forces to kingdom come and restore the glorious days of the kingdom of David? Hey, everyone’s here. One word from Jesus and we’ll take the praetorium! (Pilate’s seat of power) One could excuse the Romans for tightening security. These pesky Jews weren’t above an open revolt (Mark 15:7, Acts 5:36-37), and if ever conditions were ripe, these were.

Little did anyone (other than Jesus) know how accurate and how misguided these expectations were. Yes, Jesus was the Promised Messiah. Yes, this was His triumphal entry, leading up to the establishment of His Kingdom. But no, that Kingdom was not to be a renewal of the external trappings of David’s throne. No human enemies would be slaughtered.

Rather, Jesus’ Kingdom, the Church, would be born of the blood and water that flowed from His pierced side after His death. The deliverance He brought would be freedom from the universal tyranny of sin and death. His crown would be woven of thorns. He would reign from the throne of the cross, and His royal decrees would be words like: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43), “Behold your mother” (John 19:27), “I thirst” (John 19:28) and “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?!” (Matthew 27:46).

To people expecting a mighty warrior who would put an end to Roman oppression, this was all rather disillusioning. The hero they’d cheered just a week before now stood silent, disfigured and dripping blood in Pilate’s custody. This unresisting prisoner is the mighty champion who was going to save them?! They’ve been duped, made to look like fools! “Crucify Him!” Pilate’s rejoinder “What? Shall I crucify your king?” (John 18:15) only nettled their national pride further. “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 18:15). No, actually, their “king” was their own selfish pride and desire for comfort. But they were at least correct in saying that Jesus was not their King.

Is He ours? Have we fallen for the same line as Jesus’ countrymen or have we followed Him far enough by now to have caught a glimpse of the Kingdom He came to establish? He wasn’t content with a nation. He wanted to rule the whole world. Salvation from physical oppression wasn’t enough. He had to save us from eternal death. Are we willing to sacrifice our dreams of comfort and security to follow Him these last few days, to follow Him to the cross, carrying our own? He gave up the splendor of Heaven, and even the splendors of earth for us. We, too, must expect to be emptied. Only then can we be filled with new vision. We must die with Him. Only then will we rise to new life.

May we trade our disillusionment for a new illumination, for the ability to see as God sees and to rejoice in the Kingdom He came to establish.

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