Palm Sunday, Year B – 2015
Is.50:4-7/ Phil.2:6-11/ Mk.14:1-15, 47
You might have heard of a story about a husband and a wife who had quarreled. It had been a high-pitched quarrel, each digging heels in to preserve the position each had vehemently taken. Emotions ran high. As they were driving to attend a family wedding in a distant city, both were nursing their hurt feelings in defensive silence. The angry tension between them was so thick you could cut it with a knife.
But, then the silence was broken. Pointing to a donkey standing in a pasture out beside the road, the husband sarcastically asked, “Relative of yours?” The wife quickly replied, “Yes, by marriage!” In modern communication, the ass is a symbol for awkwardness, dumbness, blundering ineptness, non-sophistication. Yet, an ass plays a key role in the drama of Palm Sunday at which we’re looking today.
Today’s Mass began with a festive and a celebrative kind of mood. Yes today is called Palm Sunday, and at the beginning there was the procession with palms to commemorate the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
The celebrative procession with palms gave way to a solemn mood where we heard of betrayal and denial, agony and pain. Palm Sunday is also called Passion Sunday. In short, we can say that the mood in today’s Mass went from “palm to pain”.
And with that, we also enter into Holy Week and we can also say that “the pain is increasing” until it reaches its climax on Good Friday in a painful death on the cross. Yes, from this Sunday to the next Sunday, we will be confronted with a mixture of emotions – of joy and sorrow; glorious entry and humiliating exit; life and death.
Yes, we move from palm to pain. Yet it does not stop just there. Because pain and suffering and death do not have the last say and neither do they determine the final outcome. The final outcome is always in the hands of God who will be victorious, and in Jesus Christ who has conquered sin and death.
It is in the humble palm branch that we see the unfolding of pain and suffering and death. Yet it is also a sign of the victory and glory to come. As it is, this palm branch will slowly dry up in the days to come. It will turn from green to a brownish color. In the end, it will just be a dried up stiff branch.
Yet in the future, this palm branch together with the other palm branches will be collected and burnt and made into ashes for Ash Wednesday’s imposition of ashes. So what was thought to be dead and useless will be given a new purpose and a new meaning. Yes the ashes take on a new meaning and a new purpose and they become a sign of our repentance and conversion.
The same way life is like a cycle of ups and downs. And as it is always said, what goes up must come down, and what goes down must come up. Hence, we can say that nothing stays up always, and nothing stays down always. Today’s liturgy has two opposite and contrasting moods.
We began the liturgy with the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The crowds spread their garments on the road and shouted: Hosanna in the highest! (Praise God and his Messiah, we are saved) As we recalled that gospel scene, we too waved the palm branches in remembrance of that glorious moment when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem.
But as we move on into the liturgy, the mood begins to swing drastically. From “Hosanna in the highest”, we hear of human drama in the darkest and lowest. We hear of betrayal, desertion, abandonment and crucifixion. Within a span of an hour, we hear of glory tumbling down into agony.
And in that cycle of glory and agony, we are invited to see our lives in that one week of the life of Jesus. We too had our days of glory when we walk with sunshine confidence and everything seems to be going right and under control. But within a week, or even a day, or even in a matter of hours, things start crumbling and tumbling down.
And this is where we are invited to share in that moment of glory-to-agony experience of Jesus. The readings prepare us for what is to come on Good Friday. At the same time, the readings also prepare us for our own Good Fridays when we feel the agony of a sudden serious illness, the death of a loved one, the loss of a friendship, failure and disappointment, heartaches and distress.
Yes, in a short time and maybe even overnight, we plunge from glory to agony, and fall into the darkness of the tomb. The gospel also ended with Jesus buried in the tomb. But with Jesus we wait. Because what goes down must come up. Agony will be turned into glory. But we must wait. With faith and hope in the power and love of God, we wait till the agony of darkness will give way to the glory of light.
An interesting as well as challenging old fable tells of the colt that carried Jesus on Palm Sunday. The colt thought that the reception was organized to honor him. “I am a unique donkey,” this excited animal might have thought. When he asked his mother if he could walk down the same street alone the next day and be honored again, his mother said, “No, you are nothing without Him who was riding you.” Five days later, the colt saw a huge crowd of people in the street.
It was Good Friday, and the soldiers were taking Jesus to Calvary. The colt could not resist the temptation of another royal reception. Ignoring the warning of his mother, he ran to the street, but he had to flee for his life as soldiers chased him and people stoned him. Thus, the colt finally learned the lesson that he was only a poor donkey without Jesus riding on him.
As we enter Holy Week, today’s readings challenge us to examine our lives to see whether we carry Jesus within us and bear witness to him through our living or whether we are Christians in name only.
Let us rejoice and weep. Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday are two sides of the same coin because we have to rejoice and sing as we receive Jesus into our lives as our Lord and Savior and we have to weep and mourn as his death confronts us with our sin. Yes, we were there in the crowd on both days, shouting “Hosanna!” and later “Crucify!”
Because of what Jesus has done for us and our faith in him, one day we will be in that great crowd gathered around the throne of God, and there everyone will shout words of praise, heavenly hosannas, that will ring through all eternity, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!” Amen.