Monday, March 19, 2018


Christ's Entry into Jerusalem -- Morgner
Liturgy of the Palms
Liturgy of the Passion
In line with modern practice, the Sunday universally known as Palm Sunday now has two names. Strictly, it is called ‘The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday’. This is because, uniquely, there are two Gospel readings on one day. The first – in the Liturgy of the Palms – recounts Jesus ‘triumphal’ entry into Jerusalem, that bright moment when children waving palm branches led him – fleetingly -- to be hailed as king. The second, which can be longer or shorter, is usually read or sung by several voices. It recounts the dark sequence of events that followed Christ's fleeting 'triumph' – first betrayal, then abandonment, intense physical pain followed by humiliation, and finally death. Holy Week is framed by this narrative. It is taken from Matthew, Mark or Luke (this year is Mark), and then repeated on Good Friday (invariably John’s version nowadays). The days in between Palm Sunday and Good Friday are set aside for sustained meditation on the meaning of Christ’s passion. They provide an opportunity to understand the full significance of the Resurrection that is to come.

The Mocking of Christ -- Terbrugghen
The Palm Sunday readings are unusual in another respect too. The Old Testament (from Isaiah) and Epistle (from Philippians) are the same every year. In different ways they serve to underline an important fact. The significance of death by crucifixion is not to be found primarily in the terrible suffering it involved. History tells of many heroes who died horribly painful deaths as they struggled gloriously for what they believed to be right. This is not Christ’s Passion. Indeed, it is the precise opposite of a heroic death. Jesus died in the most shameful and humiliating way that the ancient world was able to devise. But he did not struggle with his persecutors, and did nothing to defend himself.

Isaiah makes the ultimate test of faith to lie in this affirmation: ‘I shall not be put to shame’ because ‘it is the Lord GOD who helps me’. Paul finds still deeper theological significance in the ignominy of it all. It is precisely because Jesus ‘humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross’ that God so ‘highly exalted him’ and gave him ‘the name that is above every name’. This might seem like some horrible sadism on God’s part, until we remember that ‘God was in Christ’ reconciling Himself to the world. Here is the spectacular, and perplexing, truth that the Resurrection confirms. It is in the figure of the humiliated, unheroic Jesus that the Source of Life, and hence the sacred, is to be seen most clearly.

Heads of Judas and Peter - Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo Da Vinci -- Judas and Peter
Astride the colt and claimed as King
that Sunday morning in the spring,
He passed a thornbush flowering red
that one would plait to crown his head.

He passed a vineyard where the wine
was grown for one of royal line,
and where the dregs were also brewed
into a gall for Calvary’s rood.

A purple robe was cast his way,
then caught, and kept until that day
when, with its use, a trial would be
profaned into a mockery.

His entourage was forced to wait
to let a timber through the gate,
a shaft that all there might have known
would be an altar and a throne.
          Marie J Post (American hymn writer 1919-1990)

No comments:

Post a Comment