Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (Year C)
The Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem
At the Mass
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
The Heart of Divine Mission
Palm Sunday is also called Passion Sunday because “two ancient traditions shape this unique liturgical celebration: the custom of a procession in Jerusalem, and the reading of the Passion in Rome” (Homiletic Directory 77). Therefore, the Church document continues, “The exuberance surrounding Christ’s regal entry immediately gives way to the reading of one of the Songs of the Suffering Servant and the solemn proclamation of the Lord’s Passion.” Thus, we immediately enter into the atmosphere of Holy Week - the events of Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem - which is the culmination of his earthly life and the very core of his divine mission.
In this regard, as the above directory emphasizes, “In the liturgical celebrations of the coming week we do not simply commemorate what Jesus did; we are plunged into the Paschal Mystery itself, dying and rising with Christ.” In other words, it is not simply a remembrance of what happened in the past, but a realization of the mystery of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection for us in the present. We are called to relive these events, to participate in them, moreover, to die to ourselves for a new life in Christ and in God. It will therefore be fundamental to listen attentively and humbly to the Word of God that speaks abundantly to us today, and in the coming days, in the readings as well as in various liturgical prayers. It is also necessary to have an attitude of personal reflection and meditation on what has been heard, to enter into the depths of the mystery being celebrated.
The Passion of Jesus, his suffering, death and resurrection was the center of the first Christians’ proclamation, because it is the heart of his divine mission, so much so that the Gospel has been elegantly called “the Passion narrative with a long introduction.” In the Passion, the mission God entrusted to his Son, by sending him into the world, is ultimately fulfilled. It is also the starting point for the mission that Jesus now entrusts to his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” (Jn 20:21) said the risen Christ to his disciples.
Therefore, the spiritual richness of Jesus’ Passion is immense for Christian life and mission. What I share with you for these special days of Holy Week is just some introductory notes, which hopefully may invite all to deeper personal reflection and meditation upon its meaning for us. For this Palm Sunday, three aspects are particularly significant to keep in mind, starting with an evocative image: Jesus on a colt.
1. The Colt of Jesus
For the triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the Messiah-king, Jesus chose to ride a colt. Some might ask why not a horse to emphasize the royal, victorious and powerful character. The answer is found in Sacred Scripture. As Matthew’s gospel points out, “This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled: ‘Say to daughter Zion, ‘Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden’” (Mt 21:4-5, quoting Zec 9:9). Jesus’ choice, therefore, wants to emphasize the fulfillment of the messianic era already foretold and, at the same time, to emphasize meekness, and not power, as his distinctive character in realizing the divine plan. His victory will never be that of violent domination that annihilates enemies, but that of meek and merciful love that raises all to the new life in God.
Accordingly, if the horse is an animal associated with wartime, the donkey/colt is an animal of everyday life in times of peace. Thus, Jesus’ image on the colt signals another fundamental characteristic of the new messianic era that He now establishes. It is peace, that Shalom in Hebrew, which means not only the absence of war, but also, and above all, life in full harmony with God, from whom all happiness, well-being, and prosperity come. As the evangelist Luke notes, the crowd accompanying Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”
2. The Fulfillment of His Mission of Peace
Jesus is the King of Peace, or “Prince of Peace”, to use the title given by the prophet Isaiah to the child born for the salvation of the people (cf. Is 9:5ff.; also Zec 9:10). In this regard, here are the truly profound words of Saint Paul the Apostle, inspired by his meditation on the passion and death of Christ: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it.
He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:13-18).
Jesus’ mission, therefore, is the one that God declared through the prophet Jeremiah, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you – oracle of the LORD – plans for your welfare [shalom] and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope” (Jer 29:11). That is why, when Jesus sent his disciples, he instructed them to say as a greeting, “Peace to this household” (Lk 10:5). And the risen Christ himself greeted his disciples in the same way, “Peace be with you.”
3. The Mission Continues
Jesus, the true peacemaker, blesses his disciples who work for peace, the genuine divine peace that starts with a heart reconciled to God (cf. Mt 5:9). And for peace, Jesus, the Messiah-king, sacrificed himself to make everyone choose life in God over death. In a world still torn asunder by violent conflicts and senseless wars to assert power and dominance, the time has come for us, Jesus’ disciples, to proclaim him as “our peace” even more loudly and convincingly than we already may do. Indeed, he always remains our one and only genuine peace to be shared with all. The fruit of Christ’s mission is lasting peace, now entrusted to his missionary disciples, and, in mystery, made real and present in this Holy Week of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.