Cathedral of Mary Our Queen; Livestream/Broadcast
March 28, 2021
The Coherence of Palm Sunday
Someone once described the Palm Sunday liturgy as one liturgy with two unconnected halves. The first part is joyous and triumphal, as Jesus enters into his city, Jerusalem, amid shouts of joy. The second part is seen as dismal, sorrowful, and even brutal as Jesus suffers and dies on the Cross.
I beg to differ. I believe that the Palm Sunday liturgy is superbly coherent. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his Passion are parts of a whole. These events relate to one another not only in time but also in their significance. In fact, the Eucharist we now celebrate links together these two saving events. Moreover, understanding how Jesus’ triumphal entry and his Passion fit together sheds light on the profound coherence of the Christian faith we profess. In your kindness, allow me briefly to explain.
The Triumphal Entry
So, in the first part of today’s liturgy, we commemorated Jesus’ triumphal entry. Indeed, in a certain sense, we re-lived that sacred event, that grace-filled moment, when Jesus, of his own volition, entered Jerusalem astride a donkey, while the crowds strewed palm branches and cloaks in his path, singing with all their hearts, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Mt 21:9) “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Ps 118) By the blessing of palms, the proclamation of the Gospel, and the solemn entry into the sanctuary, the Church opens for us the mystery of the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem, not as a matter of mere historical curiosity, but rather, as event for us to share in.
As we enter into this event, what do we discover? We find, do we not, that it is like a royal procession. In the Old Testament, especially in the Second Book of Kings (9:13), a king, on the day of his coronation, is greeted by waving and spreading palm branches. Thus did the people acclaim Jesus as he entered the royal City of David, Jerusalem! But Jesus is no ordinary king, for his Kingdom is not of this world. He arrived, not on a steed or riding in a chariot, but on a donkey, a beast of burden. He came, “meek and humble of heart”, (Mt 11:29) the very picture of the Beatitudes.
Normally, a coronation procession would advance toward the king’s palace which the king would enter so as to mount his throne. But in Jesus’ case, there is no palace. He first goes to the Temple yet even the Temple itself is not his ultimate destination.
The Passion of the Lord
Rather, as the reading of the Passion narrative makes clear, Jesus’ destination was Calvary and the throne he would mount is the Cross. As one author put it, “He would mount the wood of the Cross, and he would reign from the Cross on Good Friday as the crucified king, as the crucified Son of David, as the crucified Lord of all.” But what does it mean to say that Jesus reigns as King, when, as Isaiah prophesied, our Savior ‘gave his back to those who beat him, and his cheeks to those who plucked his beard and did not shield his face from buffets and spitting?’ (Is 50:6) How can we say that Jesus reigned when, in agony, he cried out from the Cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ (Ps 22).
Surely, St. Paul sheds light on this paradox and mystery in his letter to the Philippians, where he extols our Savior for his self-giving, self-emptying love (Phil 2:6-11). He proclaims Christ Jesus to be in the form of God, i.e., God the Father’s Eternal Son, the One whom we profess to be “God from God … true God from true God.” Even so, God’s divine Son, while remaining “in the form of God”, did not hesitate to assume “the form of a slave”, being born in the likeness of our humanity. And assuming our humanity, including a body like ours, he further emptied himself by undergoing the cruelest of punishments, namely, crucifixion . . . crucifixion, which Cicero called, “the ultimate penalty of a slave.” In humble obedience to his Father’s saving will, Jesus took upon himself our sins and the punishment our sins deserved and ‘nailed them to the Cross’ (Col 2:14). Because of this God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him at his right hand, giving to our Savior “the Name which is above every other name” (Phil 2:11). Thus, can it be said that Jesus reigns from the Cross … it is his throne and his altar.
Linked by the Eucharist
Moments from now, as we enter into the Eucharistic prayer, we will again repeat what the crowds shouted in exaltation that first Palm Sunday: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” … thus the familiar words of the “Sanctus” – the “Holy, Holy …” And well we should say “Hosanna” which means, “Save us, Lord!” and well we should greet as blessed the One “who comes in the name of the Lord.” For at that moment in our liturgy, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the priest re-enacts and renders present the mystery of the Lord’s Death and Resurrection as bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ . . . the very Lord who was greeted by the crowds, who died on the Cross, and who rose on the third day for us and for our salvation.
In his Palm Sunday homily, Pope Francis urged us to look to the Cross and to be amazed, and more than that, to conform our lives to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross. For, as St. Paul elsewhere says, ‘If we have died with Christ, we shall reign with him’(2 Tim 2:12). Come, let us walk throughout this Week called Holy with the Lord in a triumphal procession that will bring us to the Upper Room for the Last Supper, and all along the way of the Cross that leads to that moment at the center of history when, for our salvation, Christ our King conquered sin and death – who lives and reigns forever and ever! Amen.