Pope Benedict once called Palm Sunday: “The great doorway leading into Holy Week, the week when the Lord Jesus makes his way towards the culmination of his earthly existence.” (Homily, 27th World Youth Day, April 1, 2012).
This is the most solemn week of the Christian year, in which we commemorate Our Lord’s journey to Jerusalem to fulfill the Scriptures and to open the way to eternal life for each of us.
Welcomed as Messiah, one week later Jesus is crowned with thorns and is lifted up on the cross. He is lifted up in the wilderness echoing Moses and the people led out of bondage as we have read these past Sundays of Lent. Jesus is lifted up where he dies as “King of the Jews.”
In the Gospels Jesus is often called "King." Though this is often said in scorn and mockery, paradoxically, these voices are proclaiming the Cosmic Christ who is King of the Universe.
At the same time, Jesus is the Suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah. He re-enacts the agony described in Psalm 22, and even dies with the first words of that Psalm on his lips. This Psalm echoes in our minds as we recount the story of Jesus being beaten, his hands and feet pierced and his enemies gambling for his clothing while mocking him and his faith in God’s love, faith that God will deliver him.
While Jesus suffered at Calvary, the veil in Jerusalem’s temple was torn. It was a sign that by his death Jesus destroyed forever the barrier separating us from the presence of God – the transcendent God who has broken the barrier between time and eternity out of immeasurable love for us.
Jesus is God and yet humbles himself to come among us. Despite our sinfulness and our frailty. Jesus continues to humble himself to come to us, offering us his body and blood daily in the Eucharist.
There are so many ways we can reflect on the solemn liturgy of the Passion. Three symbols powerfully reflect the truth of Jesus sacrifice for us: the palms, the cross, and the veil and each represents a specific virtue.
The Palms: There are three accounts of the entrance of Our Lord into Jerusalem. In those accounts, as he comes into the city, people spread palm branches that they had cut from the trees, placing them on the ground over which Jesus entered the city. This was a gesture of respect for a king, and a gesture of homage. In 2 Kings 9:13 we read: “At once, each took his garment, spread it under Jehu [the king] on the bare steps, blew the trumpet, and cried out, ‘Jehu is king!’”. The crowds were acknowledging the kingship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The virtue we are taught here is humility. Humility is a virtue which acknowledges the greatness and power of God. Humble people bow their heads before the King of the Universe, and pledge their obedience to him. They recognize God as creator, and the sustainer of all being. God, the source of all our gifts, is our destination after life on earth but we must accept God's will in humility.
As the crowds laid palm branches on the ground, we are called to lay ourselves before the Lord in adoration and thanksgiving. Saint Andrew of Crete, exhorted us in a homily: “Let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours, and then whither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him.”
The second symbol is the central symbol of the Christian life, the Cross. Jesus died on the cross as the Passion accounts illustrate. St. Mark tells us he was crucified around nine in the morning, an inscription was placed over his head and he was crucified between revolutionaries. The crowds mocked him.
At three o’clock, Jesus “breathed his last,” and died on the cross. Andrew of Crete says: “Had there been no cross, Christ could not have been crucified. Had there been no cross, life itself could not have been nailed to the tree. And if life had not been nailed to it, there would be no streams of immortality pouring from Christ’s side, blood and water for the world’s cleansing.”
The Church Fathers wrote of the connection between the tree of Adam, which led to the downfall of humanity, and the tree of Christ, which led to humanity’s redemption. In fact, it was the instrument of human redemption.
The virtue here is caritas, self-giving love. Love is a virtue by which we express care for one another. In love we understand and reveal who we are. Jesus poured himself out on the cross showing the depth of his love for us by offering the greatest gift possible.
The third symbol of the day is the Veil. Saint Mark tells us that after Our Lord died, the veil in the sanctuary was torn in two, from top to bottom. The Temple veil covered the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem. Only the priest could enter the Holy of Holies through the veil once a year. The veil is a symbol of that which separates the created order from the transcendent. It is through this veil that Jesus, our High Priest, entered when he died on the cross and forever rent the veil so that we may be with him in his eternal and transcendent kingdom when we pass through the veil of death.
The virtue here is faith. Faith enables us to pierce the veil of Heaven, and brings us into relationship with God. The veil no longer separates us from our God. Jesus has won the ultimate victory on the cross and opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all. Through faith and by grace, we enter his kingdom, the kingdom ruled by faith, hope and love.
Jesus’ kingship isn’t of this world (John 18:36). He wants to write the Law on our hearts and minds. This understanding of the Law at the heart of the world is the key to the universe. No power on earth can diminish the reign of Christ, the King.
As we make our Holy Week pilgrimage, we resolve to give Christ the King dominion in our lives. We pray for grace to take up the cross Jesus gives to us - and to confess with all our hearts, minds, and strength, that truly this is the Son of God.