PALM SUNDAY -A - 17 MATTHEW’S PASSION
The Palm Sunday liturgy is an opportunity for us to be there, as it were, in the crowd, both at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where he was proclaimed Son of David amidst shouts of Hosanna and Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, as well as in the crowd before Pilate only a few days later who shouted for him to be crucified.
These forty days have been a journey from Ash Wednesday to now. We have followed Jesus from Galilee to the Holy City. We have seen what he has done, we have heard what he has taught, and we have seen how the people have reacted. Many believed that he was indeed the Messiah, the Promised One sent from God. Others believed he was a good man, a teacher, perhaps even a prophet, but nothing more than that for they knew where he came from.
The religious authorities believed other wise. They believed he was an imposter, a blasphemer, a radical who stood to end their way of life. What he was doing and teaching was upsetting the status quo and if not stopped, would bring down the wrath of Rome upon their heads, and they were not prepared nor were they willing to have that happen.
So they conspired against him, how to put him to death. But were divided over how to do it. Then along comes Judas, one of the twelve, who, for reasons known only to God, has become so disgruntled with Jesus that he is willing to betray him, if the price is right.
Jesus desires to eat the Passover meal with his disciples. It will be his last supper. He announces at table that one of them will betray him and that they will all abandon him. On three previous occasions he has told them that he will be handed over to be crucified. But they don’t seem to understand or else they choose not too.
They all partake of the bread and wine, including the betrayer, and afterwards Judas goes out to conduct his plan. He knows where Jesus will go after the meal. In the garden Jesus is arrested under the cover of darkness so as not to cause the people who acclaim him as Messiah to come to his defense. The disciples all flee as Jesus predicted.
Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin. False charges are unsubstantiated. The high priest, Caiaphas, takes over. He questions Jesus. But Jesus is silent.
Then, the high priest asks him if he is the Messiah, the Son of God? Jesus implies that he is by his response, “from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” He is charged with blasphemy and condemned to death, and ordered to be taken to Pilate. All the while Peter is outside denying him three times.
It is near Passover and the Holy City is beaming with pilgrims from all over the Empire who have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. Not all have even heard of Jesus of Nazareth, much less the miracles he has wrought or the teaching of the kingdom he has proclaimed.
Thus, when he is brought before Pilate and they hear that he is charged with being the King of the Jews, which he does not deny, they are easily whipped up by the scribes and Pharisees circulating through the crowd to ask for Jesus Barabbas, the robber, to be released instead of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer. And when asked by Pilate what he is to do with their king, they shout crucify him.
The longest night in the life of Christ comes to an end as he is ordered to be crucified.
Having already been mocked by the chief priests and scribes at his so-called trial before the Sanhedrin, Jesus is now mocked by the soldiers who will escort him to Calvary. Robed in purple and with a crown of thorns upon his head, they kneel and hail him as “King of the Jews.” Then they spit on him and strike him before taking him out to be crucified. They enlist another to carry his cross.
Jesus is crucified between two bandits. The inscription “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews,” hangs above his head. Crucifixions were always along the road entering the city so that all who passed by would be reminded of what happens to those who oppose Rome. The charges against the person would also be visible for all to see. The passer-bys wagged their heads at Christ and derided him for saying he would destroy the Temple.
The chief priests, scribes and elders came out to watch him die and mocked him saying, “he saved others; he cannot save himself. If he is the king of Israel; let him come down from the cross now and we will believe in him…” The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him. Then darkness fell over the land. Jesus cries out to God and gives up his spirit. Christ has died.
An earthquake erupted. The curtain in the Temple was torn into. Tombs on the western slope of the Mount of Olives were jarred opened and many bodies of the saints would be resurrected after Jesus’ and roam the city. The Centurion and those who were with him keeping watch over the crucified were afraid of what had happened and confessed “truly this man was God’s Son.”
The Passion of Christ is an account of betrayal, denial, ridicule and conspiracy. The triumphal entry had been a claim of Messiah ship. Ironically it was his death on the cross that brought its confirmation, and not by the Jews, but by a Gentile. Where do we see ourselves in all of it?
If we are honest with ourselves we must admit that our following of Jesus places us, from time to time, in both crowds. There are times when we readily praise God and give Him thanks for the many blessings we have received and continue to receive through the merits of His Son, Jesus.
And there are times when we find ourselves in the other crowd, not that we shout that Jesus should be crucified, but that by our sinful words and actions we crucify him yet. That is a sobering thought and not one we like to think about.
And then there are those who were in both crowds, who neither said or did anything, they simply dispersed after it was determined he was dead, or merely returned to their homes after the feast had ended without giving what they had just witnessed a second thought. Sometimes we are like them after having heard God’s Holy Word and received the Blessed Sacrament. We simply go back home as if we had received, nor heard anything that would make a difference in our lives.
Let us not forget the disciples. We know what they did. They ran back to the upper room and locked themselves in for fear of the Jews. And that is where they waited until the news of the empty tomb reached them, and then they refused to believe that Christ had risen from the dead. Fear overrides Faith every time. We have all been guilty of allowing this to happen.
All of these, you see, were on the other side of the cross. We are on this side of the cross. We are Easter Christians, and as Easter Christians our journey with Jesus continues. For the cross and the empty tomb did not end it. Our faith is in the Risen Christ and the Hope of eternal life His death and resurrection brings to all who believe in Him. This is the Easter faith.
As we await the opportunity to celebrate once again the joy of Easter, let us re-commit ourselves to walking the way of the cross, following His example of great humility; so that at the last day, we may, by God’s grace, share in His glory, who lives and reigns with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. AMEN+