Homily for Palm Sunday, Year C 2019
Today is quite unusual. First, the Church is decorated in an unusual way with palm fronds or branches. Palms are widely used as a symbol of peace and victory. We use them today to announce the arrival of Christ, the King who comes in peace to win the victory over evil on the Cross. For 33 years, He walked the earth, faced opposition, suffered rejection even from those who benefitted from His goodness and, He was tempted in every way, but He didn’t sin.
What a triumphant entry! He couldn’t be ignored. The people responded to Him with joyful chants, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord, the King of Israel. Hosanna in the highest”. He comes not in His own name but in the name of the Lord, His Father. He points us to the Father. “This is what My Father wants of Me and I obey Him”. In His Father’s name, He comes out quite openly and He is recognised as the Messiah.
From Luke 19:28-40, the Gospel we read after the blessing of the Palms He said, “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this, ‘The lord has need of it’”. Again, He is using “the Lord” here not in reference to Himself, but to the Father. “The Lord has need of the colt (a symbol of peace). In other words, the Father desires our peace, so Christ comes on the colt and we greet Him by throwing our garments, letting go the peace the world offers in order to receive His peace.
So, there is a dialogue between what the Father wants and our response. Thus, Jesus not only reveals His own response to the Father, but He also invites us to respond to the Father in obedience, without offering any resistance. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 50: 4-7 picked up this theme. “For my part, I made no resistance, neither did I turn away”. How did he develop this attitude? By listening to the Lord like a disciple listens to his teacher, by obeying Him.
Obedience for Isaiah isn’t blind. It is informed – “Each morning He (the Father) wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple”. Jesus obeys the Father because he knows the Father. Since He knew that the Father will come to His help and He would not be shamed, He was untouched by insults. He was at peace. Similarly, for us to enjoy the peace the Father gives, we need to know the Father and obey Him especially in those moments when we are knocked down by life.
Second, the Liturgy of the Word is unusual. Instead of the Gospel Reading, we have the Passion Narrative. Unlike other Sundays when an ordained minister reads the Gospel alone, today we all took part in reading the narrative. This is very revealing. In a way, we could say it tell us something about ourselves. It tells us how we might be betraying Jesus, condemning Him and killing Him on the Cross. This is very confronting. But it could also be liberating as we come to terms with the truth.
For some of us, we are the Chief Priests, the Scribes, the Pharisees etc who find Jesus very challenging. His way of life and His teaching upsets us. We can’t stand Him anymore, so we bring false charges against Him. We incite the crowd to rise and shout, Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Or, we could even be the crowd. We follow whatever people tell us about Him without verifying the facts. We could be Barabbas in “prison”, and suddenly, we are set free. What a joy!
Perhaps, we are Pilate, a man in authority. He had the power to save Jesus, but the fear of losing his office made him turn a blind eye to the fact of Jesus’ innocence and allowed Jesus to be crucified. We could be the people who jeered at Christ, or the soldier who mocked Him. Whoever we are, if we can admit the role, we played in the passion of Christ we can experience the forgiveness He offered on the Cross. Note, whatever we do to the least of our brothers, we do it to Christ.
Third, today’s celebration speaks of Jesus entry into Jerusalem as King. He is a different sort of King. He is King who is defeated. He is the King who came to establish the Kingdom of the Father. He invited us to be subjects of this Kingdom, to be ruled by Him and to imitate Him. Pilate affirmed His universal Kingship when He left the inscription – “Jesus the Nazareth, King of the Jews”, which was written on the Cross in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek (John 19:20).
Hebrew was the language of Religion, Ritual and Tradition. By writing in Hebrew, we are invited to submit to the Kingship of Christ by worshipping the Father the way Christ worshipped Him in obedience and trust. By writing in Latin, the language of politics, economics and commerce, we are invited to accept the Kingship of Christ, to learn from Him how to response to evil – “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing”.
By writing in Greek, the language of Philosophy and the Sciences, we are invited to listen to Christ, the Logos, the Wisdom of God. He was silent during His trial because He had already said what He had to say by His witness to the Father. So, His silence was an invitation to us to encounter Wisdom, to see things from the Father’s perspective and not solely from ours.
Finally, as we begin the Holy Week, let us learn from the unusual nature of today’s celebration and participate in the mystery of Jesus’ passion and resurrection. The Paschal Mystery can only make sense when we empty ourselves of our ego, accept the confronting reality of our brokenness and approach Christ in humble submission to His Kingship. It is only then we can experience the holiness of the Week. Wishing you A Spirit-Filled Holy Week Celebration!
Fr. Francis Afu