(A biblical refection on PALM (PASSION) SUNDAY [YEAR A], 13 April 2014)
First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-7; Second Reading: Philippians 2:6-11; Psalms: Psalm 22:8-9,17-20,23-24; Gospel Reading: Matthew 26:14-27:66 (Matthew 27:11-54)
Oberammergau is a small village in the Bavarian Alps that is famous for its Passion Play. This drama enacts the passion of Jesus from His triumphal entry into Jerusalem to His resurrection. It consists of 18 acts; has more than 700 villagers participate in the cast, orchestra and chorus; and takes a morning and an afternoon to perform.
With only three interruptions caused by war, the Oberammergau Passion Play has been staged every ten years since 1634 in fulfillment of a vow made by the villagers for deliverance from a plague.
Although our liturgy here today is not of the same magnitude and prestige as the Passion Play at Oberammergau, and although we are not assembling because of the threat of some plague, what we are doing is a sacramental ritual that should be full of meaning and power for us.
The palms that we blessed and the Passion according to Matthew that we read draw us into the drama of Holy Week, not merely as spectators, but as participants. The palms we hold and take home with us are signs that we are willing to march with Jesus, not only in moments of triumph and glory, as when He entered Jerusalem with the crowd crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” but also in moments of suffering and agony, as when He was condemned to death with the crowd crying, “Crucify Him!”
On the one hand, it is easy to praise God when we are enjoying success, are feeling healthy, and are surrounded by a loving family and a circle of friends. Nonetheless, even in these favourable circumstances, blessing God is important to make us realize that He is the source of these gifts and that we should use them for His glory.
On the other hand, it is difficult to believe in God when we are discouraged by repeated failure, suffer from sickness and pain, or feel abandoned by everyone. But is precisely in such moments that we really participate in the passion of Christ. We then know from personal experience why Jesus prayed in the garden, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by,” or why on the cross He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Moreover, it is also in such moments that we experience the power of Christ’s passion – to say “Yes” to the Father’s will when our world seems to be collapsing, and to expect that soon we will see the glory of God reveal itself in some way.
Today’s reading of the Passion ended on the dismal note of death – Jesus died and His tomb was sealed with a stone. Sometimes that’s the way our day ends: on a dismal note, for we still suffer our pain, hurt from our losses, or feel terribly lonely.
However, Passion Sunday is not the last word of the Jesus story. Rather, it is only the first word of a Holy Week that will reach its climax next Easter Sunday. The final word will not be the death of Jesus, but His rising from dead.
So too, no matter how many of our days seem to end in a depressing way, they are not the last word of our story. Rather, they are only a prelude to triumphs we have yet to experience in this life, and they point to that ultimate victory which will be ours in the next life.
There we will again process with palm branches, not to mark Christ’s triumphal entry into the earthly city of Jerusalem, but our own victorious entrance into the heavenly city of Jerusalem.
Source: Fr. Albert Cylwicki CSB, HIS WORD RESOUNDS, Makati, Philippines: St. Paul Publications, 1991, pages 26-28.
Jakarta, 13 April 2014
A Christian Pilgrim