Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion - Scripture Soundings
Gospel at the Procession: Matthew 21:1-11
First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
Second Reading: Philippians 2:6-11
Gospel: Matthew 26:14 -- 27:66 [27:11-54]
The solemn procession of this Sunday recalls Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. He enters humbly upon a donkey. He comes as a man of peace, a man of the people--fickle though they prove to be. At the beginning of Mass on this solemn Sunday, we gather for the blessing of the palms and joyously proclaim Jesus as our king.
This procession has been part of this day since about the fourth century. It is a concrete and engaging act. This moment of triumph opens the door to Holy Week. The procession and the readings of the Liturgy of the Word give us a preview of the paradox of the happy fault that merits so great a redeemer, as the words of the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil will remind us. But the Easter Vigil is far off. And we, the faithful, are at the brink of the Great Week that ends in the joy of Easter.
On this Palm Sunday, the echoes of our song of glory and laud and honor fade as we ponder the long narration of Jesus' passion, death, and burial. The readings from Isaiah and the letter to the Philippians help us retain some balance as we consider death and its relationship to life; the Crucifixion and its relationship to the Resurrection.
These first two readings are the same every year. Only the Gospels change. Each year, we read the passion narratives from Matthew, Mark, or Luke. The passion narrative according to John is reserved for Good Friday's celebration of the Lord's Passion.
This year's narration is from the Gospel according to Matthew. We hear the story of that singularly long day from the Lord's Supper on Thursday evening to his burial before sunset on the following Friday. Matthew's account is consistent with his whole Gospel. He addresses the Church; he teaches. He recalls the Hebrew Scriptures once in the narration of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and five times in the narration of the Passion.
The first reading for the day is the third of five suffering servant songs found in the book of Isaiah. This reading prepares us for the proclamation of the Passion. It's a good thing, too, for it sets before us the portrait of a just and dignified person who honorably bears the humiliation that he does not deserve.
We move to the second reading, which is a liturgical hymn that sketches the full circle from the Word's union with the Father in heaven, to the Incarnation, to his glorification. For our sakes, he who was one with God did not cling to that exalted unity of being. For us, he took on the whole--the whole!--of human existence from birth to suffering to death. This was the source of his exaltation. He is Christ and Lord.
According to Matthew's Gospel narration of the passion and death of Jesus, his only words from the cross are those of deep anguish. His sense of abandonment is all we need to remind us that he knew the loss of all that his life stood for. He did not know how he would be released from this dark night of the soul and deep pain of the body.
We, however, stand on the resurrection side of the story. We are in possession of the whole story. We are able to understand the Passion and Crucifixion in the bright light of the Resurrection. We have courage enough to hear the passion story, because it ends in life. It reverses the expectation that life ends in death. As people of the Resurrection, our faith tells us that death opens to life.
Today the events that will be celebrated day by day during Triduum are narrated whole. Triduum begins with the celebration of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday and ends on Easter evening. During these most solemn days of the Church year, we will gather to reflect on the Paschal Mystery rendered present in our lives.
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Updated: May 11, 2008