Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Marienhaus, Germany
Palm Sunday, Year B
April 16, 2000
Mk 11:1-10; Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1-15:47
This Palm Sunday Liturgy is framed by two expressions. The first is “Hosanna,” which was shouted at the beginning of Mass. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” The second is “Crucify Him!,” which we just shouted with the crowd in front of Pontius Pilate. Hosanna and Crucify Him. At first glance, no two expressions could seem more opposed. But when we really confront them in faith, we recognize that they’re not opposed at all, for the Messiah who rode triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey amidst waving palms, shouts and adulation, freely decided to mount the throne of the Cross. The Cross, therefore, was not a sign of humiliating ignominy in contrast to the palm branches, but the fulfillment of all the messianic hopes they proclaimed. It is to that glorious tree of the Cross that the palm branches all point, for on that Cross Jesus was ultimately gloriously enthroned and inaugurated the messianic kingdom that will never end.
These two weeks I will be with you will oscillate between these two related poles of the GREAT JOY of those outside the southern city walls on the way to Bethany and the GREAT SADNESS outside the northwestern walls on the hill of Calvary. But we will not really capture the meaning of these events for us unless we recognize that the story of this Holy Week in Jerusalem — the story we proclaim in today’s Gospel — is not just a memory, not just an historical event that we commemorate. Rather it is a living story that beckons us to enter into it. After David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah killed, God sent Nathan the prophet to convict David of his sins. Nathan told the story of a rich man who, although he had many flocks and herds, decided to kill the ewe lamb of his poor neighbor, which outraged David and got him to will just vengeance. At which point, Nathan shocked David by saying, “You are that man!” During our listening to the Passion of the Lord, we might be tempted to become outraged against Judas, Pilate, Peter, Herod, the soldiers and so many others. But God through the Church gives us this story and then tells us, like Nathan told David, “You are that man!” You are Judas! You are Pilate! You are Peter! There have been great debates through the centuries about who ultimately was responsible for the death of the Lord. Some said the Jews. Some said the Romans. Some said both. But the Second Vatican Council, clearly basing herself on the traditional understanding from St. Paul’s letters and the earliest days of the Church, said that — even though clearly some of the Jewish leaders and Roman authorities played a part — WE killed Jesus by our sins. Jesus died for OUR sins. Thus, if we’re really going to understand what the terrible consequences of our sins have had, and if we’re ever going to be able to experience the extraordinary joy of Easter that saved us from those sins, we need to enter into these events and recognize that we betrayed the Lord, that we killed him. Hence during this holiest of weeks, we will keep our eyes firmly fixed on the characters we encounter, because, over the course of our lives, we have acted just as they have and our actions have had the same consequences as theirs.
But that’s not the end of the story. God through the Church doesn’t stop merely by pointing out Judas, Peter, Pilate, Herod and the Others. We also encounter Mary Magdalen, the Blessed Mother, Simon of Cyrene, the Roman Centurion, St. John and the others, and the Church says to us, again, “You are that man!” We are Mary Magdalene faithful to the Lord. We are Simon of Cyrene helping him to carry the Cross. We are the Centurion proclaiming Jesus to be the Son of God. We will talk about these characters as well, as the days move toward their climax. But there’s one other person God the Father points to. He beholds his Son on the Cross and says to us, “You are THAT man!” This is an UNBELIEVABLE reality, that we are meant to be other Christs — “Hosanna in the Highest, blessed is he who bears the name of the Lord! But astride this shout, there is another: “Crucify YOU!” Christ called each one of us to pick up our Cross and follow Him, and we are called to follow in his footsteps until our footsteps themselves become bloody and hammered to a tree. But as with Christ, this suffering is not ignominious or humiliating, but glorifying, because it is in dying with Christ that we rise. This truth, this Christian vocation, might scare and intimidate us, but there’s good news, for we have already done this once before, or it was done to us, probably before any of us was born. On the glorious day of our baptism, we were baptized into the death of the Lord, dying in the font, and rising from spiritual death as members of Christ’s body. We already bear in us as a result of our baptism this death and resurrection of the Lord. This Holy Week, this Easter, we are called once more to enter into that Paschal Mystery which began literally in us on that day. We are called ultimately to say with St. Paul, in truth, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”
There is no better place to start on our ascent to Calvary in Christ than here at this Mass. The Mass we celebrate is in itself Palm Sunday and Calvary altogether in one. We again will shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord.” We again will mount Calvary where we will be not just witnesses but participants in the very same same death of the Lord for us and our salvation out of love. And we will gain an ingress to that Eternal Banquet in the presence of all the angels and the saints, where we hope forever to behold the Lamb looking as if he has been slain in that kingdom won for us by the Lord by the very death and resurrection we celebrate now. God bless you!