Sunday Scripture readings, April 2, 2023, Palm Sunday
Is 50:4-7 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24 Phil 2:6-11 Mt 26:14-27:66
Liturgy reminds us that Christ’s Passion happened not only for us, but because of us
If you’re like many Catholics in parishes around the country, you aren’t just in church. The Gospel takes us to another time and place, transported to Jerusalem, where what begins on a dusty road will end on a rocky hill, and we are a part of everything that happens. We have palms in our hands, and roles to play. We turn from a joyful crowd into an angry mob, all in a matter of moments.
We are outside the city gates, crying “Hosanna!” as Jesus passes through on the back of a donkey.
We are reclining at a table at the Last Supper, asking if we are the betrayers.
We are standing beneath Pilate’s balcony, calling for Barabbas, and screaming of the Messiah, “Crucify him!”
This is the only Sunday in the church calendar that is like this, when the Gospel is proclaimed not just by a priest or deacon, but everyone at Mass, with multiple voices playing different parts in the Gospel. That shows us as the people we are, and places us right in the middle of things — not just spectators or listeners, but participants.
I think this is what we need. We need to hear what happened and understand how devoted followers of Jesus can turn against him — as all of us do, time and time again, when we give in to our weakness and selfishness and sin.
The church gives us this Palm Sunday liturgy to remind us that Christ’s Passion happened not only for us, but because of us. It’s dramatic and devastating and necessary. These weeks of Lent have been all about recognizing and acknowledging our own fickleness, our fallen nature. Lent has been a time to try and change that, to work on our sins with hearts torn open. Palm Sunday makes that tangible. What began with ashes on our brows is suddenly marked by fresh palms in our hands — new life, new growth, new hope, if we really want it.
These last weeks have been a time to take stock and prepare to honor the heart-stopping events that changed the world forever. Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.
I’ve called this week “Seven Days that Shook the World.” We shouldn’t take them for granted. We shouldn’t see this Sunday as simply an interval leading up to Easter. Because there is so much more.
During Holy Week, remember what it is all about. Remember what was happening in Galilee 2,000 years ago. Imagine what it must have been like for the people; for the apostles. And, especially, for Jesus as each day brought him closer to Calvary.
Imagine the praying, the preparing, the wondering. Imagine the courage and the fear — because you can’t have one without the other. The world continued to spin around him, while the people, and friends and followers were distracted — getting ready for Passover, planning a celebration, all unaware of what was about to happen, with no sense of a great change looming before them all. Some of us might feel like that, right now – like our lives, our concerns are going unnoticed as the world spins and who-knows-what looms.
For all of them, the world was about to shift in ways they could not begin to fathom. In just one week, everything would be different.
Holy Week shouldn’t be just another week in our lives. We shouldn’t let it be.
So, this year, as the week begins, let’s remember the people we are.
Remember where we find ourselves during the liturgy, listening to that Gospel, in the middle of the story, shaking our palms and raising our voices — actors in one of the defining events of the Greatest Story Ever Told. Time will stand still. Bread — and hearts — will be broken. A lamb will be slaughtered. Blood will be shed.
Remember all that. But remember something else, too.
This is just the beginning. The story isn’t over. Palm Sunday indicts our brokenness even as it promises redemption.
This week, remember that. And remember to carry the spirit of Palm Sunday Mass out into the world.
Deacon Greg Kandra is an award-winning author and journalist, and creator of the blog, “The Deacons Bench.” He serves in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York.