Today we gather to celebrate Passion (Palm) Sunday. Sr. Mary McGlone talks about the sacramental processions with the palms as one of those very Catholic, whole-body experiences that can mildly embarrass us and still nudge us to enter more deeply into a unique experience of our
participation in the events of salvation history. She gives two questions we might ponder as we process and sing “Hosanna”: 1) “Who is he that we celebrate?” And 2) “What does it mean to walk this path?” She continues to give us insight into these two questions.
The first two readings offer meditations on the first question. Isaiah’s famous third song of the servant of God paints such a prophetic portrait of Jesus that it’s easy to understand why the early church used it: it explains their suffering savior. More than anything, this song is a proclamation of humble obedience and purity of heart. If we imagine Jesus reciting it, the first thing we hear is his awareness that everything he has comes from God for the purpose of giving new life to the poor or weary. Next, he explains that his entire life has been one of listening in order to understand and carry out God’s will. Then, he speaks of freely accepting his suffering. Finally, he reveals the key to his integrity and why he can accomplish what he does: “The Lord is my help…I shall not be put to shame.”
Our reading from Philippians offers the early church’s poetic reflection on Christ as the perfect servant of God…he freely dispossessed himself of privilege, assuming the condition of the needy and accepting the human vocation to listen to and obey God – no matter the consequences. For whom are we processing this day? This is Jesus, the obedient Son of God, the one in whom God was well pleased. This is the one who lived in utter transparency, whose life and death gave witness to his teaching about serving the lowly and disdaining prestige. This is the Christ whom God exalted so that everyone could proclaim him as Lord and see in the glory of God.
The second question is more costly: “What does it mean to walk this path?” Luke’s Passion invites us to walk with Jesus through his last day of mortal life. Before ever entering the trial, he offers us communion, as he tells Peter, to strengthen us when we fail. Then he warns us that being a traitor is easier and less dramatic than we think; lording it over others will accomplish the task.
From Sunday through Friday, this is the Holy Week during which we are urged to walk the way of the cross with our ancestors and our contemporaries. We take our place among them and learn from Jesus as he prays, accepts the counterfeit sign of companionship, and heals the innocent one injured in the fray. Then, through the trial, the procession to Calvary, and his final expressions of forgiveness, promise and trust, we are invited to hear which of those words he addresses to us today and what difference they might make.
We process today as a reminder that salvation is a historical, whole-body experience. It’s not just our mind, but our hands and feet and voices that must participate, because this drama is ongoing. Because we cannot avoid meeting the suffering Christ as we walk through life, we keep the palm as a reminder that we want to honor and be faithful to him in all his lowly incarnations. We continue to seek communion because morning after morning, we need God’s help to become faithful disciples of God’s servant. We process today, looking forward to the fulfillment of his Easter, when sin and suffering are but memories and “Alleluia” is our only song. (Celebration)
I look forward to celebrating this Holy Week with you.