Palm Sunday - a reflection

Monday, April 11, 2022 - 10:45

Fr. Patrick Fitzgerald-Lombard, O.Carm., is parish priest of the parish of St. Thomas of Canterbury, Mayfield, Sussex. He is a member of the Aylesford Community. Today, Fr. Patrick is reflecting on the readings from yesterday's Mass. Please read Fr Patrick's introduction to these reflections and please look at the readings for Sunday Mass here (these will open in a separate window for ease of reading):

“It was necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and so enter into his glory” says the risen Jesus to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in the Gospel of Luke. That outlines the journey we will be following over the coming week building up to the climax of the Paschal Triduum which takes us from the evening of Maundy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday.

Suffering and glory are the twin poles of this week and I have written before about these being the poles of Christian life. I’ve quoted before from St Paul that we must share his sufferings if we are to share his glory. This week therefore we follow the Lord’s journey through suffering and death to the glory of his risen life. As with all the sacraments there is that important sense that these are not just past events but real and present with us now. Our memory is our story, the story of our Saviour.

In different ways, this message is present both this Sunday and on Good Friday. On Good Friday, the suffering is brought out by the servant song from the prophet Isaiah. The Passion story that follows comes from the Gospel of John which brings out the glory in the procession to the cross: “when I am lifted up…” is stated three times earlier in the gospel. Whilst the events around the cross do need the ratification of the resurrection, these can be seen as the climax of the Gospel. Jesus is in control, he carries his own cross, there is no Simon of Cyrene.
With his mother and the disciple he loved, Jesus forms the Christian community. Thus the glory of Jesus is revealed on the cross.

For Palm Sunday, the note of glory is sounded right at the beginning with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem as we process with palms. We remember this event which is told in all four Gospels. Thus we begin Holy Week with an anticipation of the glory at the end. This keeps the suffering of the week always in perspective. The hymn from the letter to the Philippians outlines the process that is being followed as Jesus goes down, right down and then God raises him high again. This too highlights the background and adds to the perspective.
The Passion as always is read from one of the Synoptic Gospels in rotation, which is Luke this year. All four accounts of the Passion follow broadly the same five part story line. That suggests that the outline was fixed early on in the Church’s mission. Yet the four are notably different in detail. That is why I do not like the traditional stations of the cross. The four have been harmonised into one story. We need to appreciate the differences between the four and hear their distinctive voices. Thus the walk with the cross in this Sussex village this Good Friday will be accompanied by reading from the passion according to Mark.

This year we hear the Passion according to Luke. The Passions of Matthew and Mark are close like their Gospels. Luke is noticeably different. Like all evangelists, he has his agenda and he may also have different traditions available to him. Here we can have a brief review of his version so as to aid our reflections.

The beginning of the Passion is the announcement of Passover and preparations for the meal. This includes Judas arranging the betrayal of Jesus.
Luke leaves out the anointing of Jesus at Bethany because he has used it earlier in the Gospel. It all happens as Jesus told them.
The story continues with the meal itself. This is where the Gospel reading begins. The details of the giving of the bread and wine by Jesus as his body and blood are different to the other Gospels though close to St Paul. The core though remains the same.

It is at this point that Luke repeats an earlier episode of the disciples arguing about who is the greatest as they did earlier. This leads into a short farewell speech from Jesus unique to this Gospel. Leadership is characterised as service, and we are mindful that Jesus will shortly give the ultimate leadership as service on the cross. Significant is that this speech follows the giving of the bread and wine and concludes with anticipating the eating and drinking in the heavenly kingdom. There are considerable implications here for our Eucharist today.
Jesus’ speech continues by predicting Peter’s denials and giving them the context of the Church’s mission under God’s protection.

The next stage of the story takes Jesus to the Mount of Olives (not Gethsemane in this Gospel) with his disciples following him. What happens is simplified compared to Matthew and Mark so that the focus is on Jesus’s prayer. Before and after, Jesus tells the disciples to pray not to enter the time of trial. Jesus’ prayer in the garden would be repeated by the many who would face martyrdom.

His arrest follows and Jesus is taken to the house of the high priest. The third stage of the story begins with Peter’s denial of Jesus but the night hearing of the other Gospels here takes place in daytime. This makes it more legal as a trial though witnesses are not called. Jesus as in the other Gospel proclaims his ministry which is taken as enough to make the council take him to the Roman governor.

Here, the Jewish leaders stress political elements in their charges: Jesus is encouraging a tax revolt, is claiming to be a king, and stirs up the people from Galilee to Judea. Pilate avoids the issue by sending Jesus to Herod. Whilst Herod and his soldiers tortured Jesus, their regal cloak ironically made Jesus the alternative king to Herod. Herod then returns Jesus to Pilate.
What follows places the blame firmly on the Jewish leaders for the condemnation of Jesus.
Three times Pilate declares Jesus to be innocent. Luke wanted to avoid provoking the Romans.
For the climax of the story, Jesus is taken away and Simon of Cyrene forced to carry the cross, “after Jesus”, Luke says. On the way, only Luke tells of the encounter with the women of Jerusalem, predicting the troubles to come. As with the other Gospels, two criminals are also crucified on either side. This is followed by Jesus’ prayer for his enemy’s forgiveness, again unique and typical of Luke. This leads on to the exchange with the two criminals. In this Gospel, Jesus speaks more often during his Passion, though in John’s Gospel he says even more. For Matthew and Mark, Jesus cry is “my God, my God why have you forsaken me” from Psalm 22. Luke instead gives Jesus the trustful words of Psalm 34: “Father into your hands I commend my spirit”. Notable too is the change of the centurion’s acclamation: “Truly this man was dikaios” The Greek is necessary here because the word means both innocent as well as righteous. It is as the righteous man innocent of any crime that Jesus dies. Just as many martyrs will die after him, beginning with St Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles.
Finally, Jesus was buried. It was important for Christians to show that Jesus was not in a trance but really dead. In the tomb he must rest for a full day, evening Friday to evening Saturday. The Church too waits likewise in hopeful anticipation every year.

Image credit: I stock photo .com and image from our garden at Mount Carmel, Faversham