Palm Sunday  2020

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  • How can we live a truly grateful life? Well, we can easily divide our lives into good things to be thankful for and bad things to forgive and to forget.

  • True spiritual good embraces all our past that has brought us to who we are today.

  • Furthermore, it all took place within the loving presence of God.

  • Certainly, we sense God’s presence among us today on Palm Sunday, now called Passion Sunday, an unusual union of names.

  • The great triumphant procession of palms (good), as well as the betrayed allegiances of the human heart (bad).

  • Both are woven into the passion and death of Jesus

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  • The liturgy itself is a collision of themes … glorious hosannas and somber omens. 

  • In the First Reading, Isaiah promised a servant of God who would have a “face set like flint” to brave pummeling, spit and ridicule.

  • In the Second Reading, Paul’s hymn in Philippians, is one of triumph – “every knee should bend in heaven and earth and every tongue confess” – but only after disgrace and an ignominious death.

  • The passion narrative itself stirs up a multitude of feelings: shame for sin; guilt for betrayals; joy in the gift of the Eucharist; & gratitude for the mystery of redemption.

  • When we prayerfully consider these events of betrayal and death, they drive home the cost of discipleship and the realism of the gospel message.

  • Life demands death; love requires self-donation; mercy necessitates divine compassion.

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  • What almost goes unnoticed though is the inescapable context of the Passion as a national and political struggle.  The betrayals are always hatched in the presence of looming authorities who seduce and frighten the betrayers: That is, Judas, Peter and the cowardly disciples.

  • There is a sense of political strife.  The stage is set for armed violence, the sword raised in the cause of right.  There are secret police and public meetings of high priests, governors and assemblies.

  • There are political prisoners.

  • Finally, there is a crisis of authority, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 

  • History poses that question to us also, to every age and clime.

  • Who or what is the object of our allegiance?

  • In the gospel, Jesus is condemned by a logic of self-defense and corporate survival.  Chief priests and high councils are threatened by Christ and his way.  He is a menace to national and religious interests.

  • Note the language: “If we let him go like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come to destroy both our holy place and our nation.”  Caiaphas murmurs realistically as we sometimes do in our hearts: “It is better to have one man die for the nation.”

  • From this telling statement arises the suspicion that the crisis of Palm Sunday is the crisis of every epoch and culture.  We are torn between Christ and societal evils, between our allegiance with Him and with sin.

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  • In today’s gospel, Pontius Pilate makes the same mistake we all make at times: He thinks merely washing his hands in water will make him clean again.  (“I’m washing my hands of that/ I’m not going there”)

  • The intriguing thing about Pilate is the degree to which he tried to do the good thing, rather than the bad.

  • He commands moral attention, perhaps not because he was a bad man, but because he was so nearly a good man.

  • One can imagine him agonizing, sensing that Jesus had done nothing wrong, and wishing to release him.  Just as easily, however, one can envision Pilate’s advisors telling him of the risks, warning him not to cause a riot or to inflame Jewish opinion.

  • It is a timeless parable of political life, and Pilate, the personification of a climbing politician, is caught on the horns of an age-old civic dilemma.

  • Do you think Pilate really knew that Jesus was innocent? 

  • Do you think Pilate was innocent?

  • What do you think you would have done?

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  • Well, during this sacred week, the Church invites us to consider the meaning of the Cross.

  • Spiritually, the Cross is God at work.  It gives an example of humility, obedience, constancy, and the other virtues required for our salvation.  Christ’s passion is proof that He believed we are worth dying for.  Remember his words, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

  • Furthermore, one of the messages today’s readings underscore is that we do not have to suffer aimlessly.  Christ came to fill our suffering with his presence, to show his solidarity with us. 

  • Since the Fall in Eden, pain is a part of our lives.  Pain gets our attention though.  It focuses us on what is important.   When things are fine, we tend not to reflect as much.

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  • You know, there is a scene in John Masefield’s play “The Trial of Jesus” when, right after the crucifixion, Pilate’s wife is talking with a Roman soldier.  The officer had been in command of the detail of soldiers who carried out Christ’s execution.

  • She asks, “Do you think He is dead?”  The soldier answers, “No, lady, I do not.”

  • “Then where is He?” Pilate’s wife wonders aloud.

  • The centurion replies, “Let loose in the world, lady, where neither Jew no Roman can stop his truth.”

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Shelby Township, Michigan

48316

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