Why do we today, on a Sunday, read out the Passion of Jesus Christ? It seems out of place, since Jesus did not die on Palm Sunday and it seems inappropriate, since Sunday is supposed to be a day of rejoicing. Partly, the reason is just practical: not everyone can be here on Good Friday and the Gospel next Sunday, at Easter, will not make much sense without the Gospel today. Jesus cannot rise without having first died. This is not the whole reason though. It is indeed fitting to read the Passion of Jesus today because we must realize that the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem was one with his death on the Cross.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus climbed up Mount Zion; in his passion, he climbed Mount Calvary.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus was carried into Jerusalem; in his passion, he walked carrying his cross.
On Palm Sunday, a crowd lined the streets to praise our Lord; a crowd lined the way of the cross too.
On Palm Sunday, the crowd took off their cloaks and laid them on the road to honour Jesus; before the cross, Jesus was stripped of his cloak and clothes.
On Palm Sunday, everyone praised Jesus, calling out “Hosanna!” In his passion, Jesus was insulted, mocked, and laughed at.
Yes, Palm Sunday is the key to understanding the Passion, and the Passion is the key to understanding Palm Sunday. We stand with palms (or olive branches) in our hands because we too want to honour Christ. We also stand as sinners because, after all, we are the reason that Jesus died on the cross. So here we are praising God and asking forgiveness.
Jesus deliberately chose to enter Jerusalem on a young donkey. Why? Because it suggests a humble king, a king of simplicity and one who comes in peace. (In fact, the name, Jerusalem, means ‘City of Peace’. What a sad irony that is today.) For a similar reason Pope Francis when he came to visit South Korea a few years ago chose to be driven in a tiny Kia, the second smallest car in the Kia range. He had to almost back himself into it. The little Kia contrasted with all the sleek big Hyundai equivalents of the Mercedes which the other officials who greeted him at the airport were driven in. So likewise the young donkey contrasts in the Bible with the horse, a symbol of proud, arrogant, warlike kings. Often the Israelites were chided by the prophets for putting their trust in horses and chariots bought from Egypt instead of relying exclusively on the Lord.
And the olive or palm branch is also traditionally a symbol of peace. Remember when Noah sent out that dove to see if the flood waters had gone down, it returned with the olive branch in its beak and so became a symbol of the earth and mankind being once again at peace with their Creator. We say we hold out or offer an olive branch to another person when we do or say something in order to show that we want to end a disagreement or hostilities with them. Be sure to take home your palm or olive branch today and place it behind a crucifix or picture so that Jesus, the King of Peace, may reign there and keep all your family at peace.
Yes, today we are beginning the best week in the whole liturgical year. Centuries ago it was called the ‘Great Week‘. Nowadays we Catholics call it ‘Holy Week’.
Let us follow Jesus every step of the way. Fr John