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Palm (Passion) Sunday

March 16, 2008

Blessed Palm Sunday!

We are entering into the most holy days of the Church year, intensifying our preparation 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 (despite the fact that most calendars still list St. Patrick on Monday). Nothing may interrupt these high holy days.

Almighty, ever-living God,
You have given the human race Jesus Christ our Savior
as a model of humility.
He fulfilled Your will by becoming Man
and giving His life on the cross.
Help us to bear witness to You by following His example of suffering
and make us worthy to share in His resurrection.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Opening Prayer for today’s Mass)

Readings:
+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)

“And it came to pass, when the days of His assumption were accomplishing, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

As Jesus nears Jerusalem, the crowd fully expects the reign of God to appear (see Luke 19:11). They have plenty to be excited about. Just a few months before, He’d raised Lazarus from the dead, and those who’d seen the miracle were only too happy to tell the story (see John 12:17). On this journey, as He’d passed through Jericho on His way to Jerusalem, He’d healed two blind men, who followed Him up the road (Matthew 20:29-34). To top matters off, it’s Passover season, the celebration of liberation from the slavery of Egypt. Jews from all over the known world are converging upon Jerusalem for the feast. If ever there was an opportune time to rally the people to route the occupying Romans, this would be it.

When Jesus mounts a donkey for a triumphal entry into the city, the crowd goes wild!
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). With exuberant abandon they throw their cloaks on the road before Him, waving branches in the air, much as the people rejoiced (as if to split open the earth!) when the newly-anointed King Solomon mounted King David’s donkey for his triumphal ascent to his throne in Jerusalem (see I Kings 1:38-40).

There was an even more immediate precedent for this as well. In Leviticus 13:40, God had commanded His people to celebrate the Feast of Booths (in September) by gathering branches and rejoicing before the Lord. In Jesus’ day, they observed this command by processing around the altar with branches, to the recitation of Psalm 118. This was done once a day for six days, then seven times on the seventh day as a re-presentation of circling the walls of Jericho (see Joshua 6). When they got to verses 25-26, everyone waved their branches and shouted with the priest: “O Lord, grant salvation! O Lord, grant prosperity! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord”. “O Lord, grant salvation” in Hebrew, is “hosanna”, and this seventh day became known as the Great Hosanna. It was a saying among the Jews that one who had not experienced this feast didn’t know what joy was (www.NewAdvent.org). The last time many (if not most) of these people had been in Jerusalem had been for the Feast of Booths.

“Blessed the people who know the joyful shout” (Psalm 89:16)

This people knows the joyful shout! They’ve just passed through Jericho on their way here. They’re ready for a new conquest of the Promised Land. Their cry is both a shout of joy and a plea for salvation. In naming Jesus as “Son of David”, they’re proclaiming Him king.

The last time a crowd tried this, Jesus fled (John 6:15). This time He encourages them. When the Pharisees scolded, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” He replied, “If they were to keep silence, I tell you the very stones would cry out!” (Luke 19:39-40).

His hour has come. He is indeed entering Jerusalem as the promised King Who will reign forever. His crown will be woven of thorns, His scepter a reed (Matthew 27:29), His throne a cross.

“Because of this, God highly exalted Him
and bestowed on Him the Name above every other name,
so that at Jesus’ Name every knee must bend
in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth,
and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father
JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!”
(Philippians 2:9-10)

May we too rejoice in the coming of our King.

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