Palm Sunday seems to turn on a dime, as we used to say. It begins with the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem. People are waving palm branches, throwing their cloaks in front of his donkey, and proclaiming, “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes!” In a heartbeat, however, the enthusiastic crowd becomes a mob. No longer are they waving palm branches. They are waving the fists and calling for Jesus to be crucified. Shrugging our shoulders, we conclude, “The public is fickle.”
But contrasts do not end there. Within the Gospel account of Jesus’ passion and death there are contrasts.
On the one hand, the humility and love of the woman who anoints Jesus’ head with a costly perfume because she has found in him the joy of salvation. On the other hand, there is the cynical criticism of Jesus’ fellow dinner guests and the behind-the-scenes plotting to arrest and to kill Jesus.
Contrast the intimacy of Jesus with his apostles at the Last Supper with the disturbing news that one of them would betray Jesus. “Surely, it is not I,” they said to the Lord, one after the other. In this context, Jesus, the Lamb of God, celebrates a new Passover, the Eucharist, by which we pass from sin to grace and from death to life.
Could there be a sharper contrast between the Agony of Jesus in the Garden and the uncomprehending slumber of his closest disciples, as the Lamb of God took to himself the sins of the world. Their slumber turned into fear and fear into betrayal in contrast to the faithful women who followed Jesus along the way of the Cross.
Who indeed could be more different? Jesus who cured the sick, raised the dead, and preached the good news or the rebel Barabbas who had committed murder?
In the end, they crucified Jesus. Heaped with scorn and humiliation, racked with pain, he lays down his life. To most bystanders the death of Jesus was a spectacle of defeat. To the eyes of faith, it is a moment of triumph – when God’s self-giving love is revealed, a love stronger than sin and more powerful than death.
The contrasts of Palm Sunday call for a decision on our part. It is a decision that does not admit of compromise. Either we are with Christ or against him. Either we are his disciples or we have chosen to follow another. Here we must heed the advice of Pope Francis when he said: “Christian life is not a collage of things. It is a harmonious totality, the work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot be Christian in bits and pieces, part-time Christians. We must be wholly Christian and full-time.”
So let us follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha by taking part in the beautiful liturgies of Holy Week in which we enter into the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you have not done so already during Lent, I invite you to make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Then on Easter morning, we will know the true joy of greeting the Risen Lord with undivided hearts. May God bless us and keep us always in His love.