Today, as parish families, we would normally bless the palms, tell the story of the Triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, and then process into the church. We would then listen to the readings from scripture and we would be most attentive to the telling of the Lord’s Passion, followed by the rest of the Eucharistic Celebration (profession of faith, intercessions, preparation and presentation of gifts, the Eucharistic prayer, the communion rite and dismissal).
Today most of us will take part in a shorter virtual celebration but the spirit in which we gather and the wisdom of the scriptures prevails and together we do well to listen and ponder the words of our sacred authors.
In the text from our First Reading, Isaiah talks about what God has done for him – giving him the tongue of a teacher so that he can sustain the weary, waking him every morning to listen because God has opened his ear. He talks about how he has suffered, giving his back and his face to those who brutalized him. He sees his suffering not as a punishment, a shaming or a disgrace but rather an opportunity to display his obedience to God; his love and faithfulness.
In the Gospel, Matthew tells the story of Jesus, the story of his betrayal, the Supper, the suffering in the garden, the arrest, the fear of the disciples, the encounter with the high priests, the betrayal of Peter, the despair of Judas, his encounter with Pilate, the condemnation of the crowds, his walk to Golgotha, his final words, his death and his burial. It is a gripping story that tells of our sinfulness, our weakness, our fear, our hope, God’s promise and the Presence of God and the struggle to see and trust that the Presence of God will see us through the pain and suffering.
In our Second Reading, we have the beautiful hymn from Philippians where Christ willingly embraces his humanity and makes himself vulnerable before all people and before God. The hymn ends with the exultation of Christ. He surrendered everything and he is given everything by the God of the Universe. The whole of creation responds with praise and thanksgiving and in so doing glorifies God.
In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic the whole human race is definitely suffering. The burden of this suffering is falling primarily on the poor – those who do not have ready access to health care, solid support systems or resources with which to access the many tools needed for survival and well-being. While the virus does not pick any one person over another, we know that the poor have less access to resources than do the rich. In addition, it is the poor who suffer the most from the downturn in the economy – they have no investments as they manage their lives from week to week and day to day.
When we read sacred scripture, we are told repeatedly that God has a deep care for the poor, for those who are sidelined by mainstream society. Those who cannot help themselves, those who have drifted away from God, those who have made choices to alienate themselves from God, God pursues them leaving behind the righteous to seek and to find the lost.
It is for these, that Jesus surrendered his life. It is for these that Jesus was willing to undergo suffering, abandonment, crucifixion and death. His faithfulness speaks of God’s love for us. His faithfulness teaches us who we are called to be, who we are becoming; his faithfulness reminds us of who we are. As Christians, we are on a journey toward taking on the generous kind of life that Jesus lived.
Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week invites us to deepen the commitments we have already made. Palm Sunday, this feast wherein the faithfulness of God is on full display in Isaiah and in Jesus, calls us to trust in the goodness of God even in the midst of our suffering and the suffering of our brothers and sisters. Right now, as we struggle with COVID-19, as our fears rise to the surface, as our anxiety inhibits our faith, we are invited to trust God. We are invited to trust God not because everything is going to be nice and easy. We are invited to trust God because God always brings forth new life. When our cries are silenced, our possibilities shut down and there is no obvious hope, new life emerges from death. Between our now and this new life stands the cross. It is ours and it is inevitable.
Today, and in the days to come we will watch sister and brother take up crosses that are heavy and unwieldy, we will watch sister and brother fall under the weight of their suffering. As Isaiah reminds the People of Israel, as Paul reminds the Philippians, that is not the end of the story. With each of our stumbling steps there is one who has gone before us, one who is with us and one who will welcome us into the Communion of Saints. As we pray today, let us cling to the hope of glory and of new life, offered in Christ Jesus the Lord. Death is not the end of our story!
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI