Homily: Palm Sunday, 2018

25th March, 2018

Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11 Mk 14:1 – 15:47

We enter into the Holy week with the celebration of Palm Sunday. Holy Week is the most important week of the entire liturgical year. This week we remember and relive the events which brought about our redemption and salvation. So this week presents us with the actual events of the dying and rising of Jesus.

The first reading today is Isaiah’s prophesy of the suffering servant. In the second reading St. Paul highlights the self-emptying and obedience of Christ to the point of death on the cross. The passion narration is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophesy. It invites us to examine our lives in the light of some of the characters in the story like St Peter who denied Jesus, Judas who betrayed Jesus, Pilate who acted against his conscience, Herod who ridiculed Jesus, and the leaders of the people who were determined to get rid of Jesus. Let us keep the palm branches we received in a prominent place in our homes, reminding us that Christ is the King of our hearts and our families. Let us make time for Him every day, especially this Holy Week because it is with Him we will be spending our eternity. Let us remember that we are nothing without Christ.

The Passion, suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord are the very themes that unite us as a Christian people and a Church during Holy Week.

This year on Palm Sunday, we listen attentively to St Mark’s Passion story of Jesus’ final days and hours before his death. It is a story of striking contrasts. As we hear anew this moving story, Jesus’ passion penetrates the numbness of our lives. This week in particular, we have a privileged opportunity to learn from what happened to Jesus and discover not only the identity of those who tried, condemned and killed him long ago, but also what killed Jesus and what vicious circles of violence, brutality, hatred and jealousy continue to crucify him today in his brothers and sisters of the human family.

In Mark’s jarring Passion story, we witness the anguish of Jesus who has been totally abandoned by friends and disciples. Jesus is resigned to his fate. He makes no response to Judas when he is betrayed by him or to Pilate during his interrogation. In Mark, Pilate makes no effort to save him, as the Roman procurator does in the other three Gospels.

As he does throughout his Gospel, Mark depicts the utter failure of the disciples to provide any support to Jesus or to even understand what is happening. The enigmatic, young male disciple who flees into the night when Jesus is arrested, is a powerful symbol in Mark’s Gospel of his followers who initially left family and friends behind to follow Jesus. Now that the heat is on, they leave everything behind to flee from him.

When we remember the events of that first Holy Week – from the upper room to Gethsemane, from Pilate’s judgment seat to Golgotha, from the cross to the empty tomb, Jesus turns our world and its value system upside down. He teaches us that true authority is found in dedicated service and generosity to others; greatness is centred in humility; the just and loving will be exalted by God in God’s good time.

At the conclusion of the Stations of the Cross at Rome’s Colosseum on Good Friday night in the Jubilee Year 2000, Saint John Paul II spoke these moving and powerful words: “Who, if not the condemned Saviour, can fully understand the pain of those unjustly condemned?

“Who, if not the King scorned and humiliated, can meet the expectations of the countless men and women who live without hope or dignity?

“Who, if not the crucified Son of God, can know the sorrow and loneliness of so many lives shattered and without a future?”

Our Saviour truly understands our human condition. He walks with us and shares our sorrows, loneliness and suffering. How do we respond to such love and genuine solidarity? Palm Sunday invites us to put on what St Paul calls the “attitude of Christ Jesus” in his passion and death: to “empty” ourselves of our own interests, fears and needs for the sake of others.

In this way, the Passion of Jesus becomes a reason for hope and a moment of grace for us all, as we seek the reign of God in our own lives – however lonely and painful that search may be. Holy Week gives us the consolation and the conviction that we are not alone. Genuine participation in the entire liturgy of Holy Week will deepen our relationship with God, increase our faith and strengthen our lives as disciples of Jesus.