Readings: Is. 50:4-7 Psalm 22 Phil. 2:6-11 Mt. 21:1-11 In this holiest week of the liturgical year, Palm Sunday offers us a “mixed bag,” though the predominate theme is that of suffering. In Matthew’s Gospel we find allusions to royalty. For example, kings had a right to press privately-owned animals into service whenever they wanted to, and the action of “spreading their cloaks before him” suggests the custom they practiced in deference to kings. Finally, our entrance procession suggests Jesus’ triumphal march into Jerusalem but, as we know, it was also a prelude to His Passion. The Evangelists say nothing about children in the procession, but Egeria, a Church Mother, describes the procession as it was celebrated at the end of the fourth century. She tells us that all children were present. Those too young to walk were carried on their parents’ shoulders. Later, in Jerusalem, the procession turned into a children’s feast. It was not until the eleventh century that the procession became a Roman custom. From then on in the West, this Sunday has been a combination of the festive aspects and of the Passion. In Isaiah’s reading, we are introduced to the dynamics of hearing and speaking. He tells us the ability to hear and speak are given “to arouse the weary,” that is, to help others. As we know, his prophetic mission accrued only suffering, not thanks. We cannot expect more. Though we might not have beards to pluck, we can expect criticism for which we are to give thanks, not complaints—not an easy task. The familiar responsorial Psalm 22 extends this suffering even to the feeling of being abandoned by God. The second reading from Philippians sharpens the theme of suffering, describing the humiliation and radical obedience of Jesus, who emptied Himself to the point of death on a cross. Without losing His Godlike being, He took on our human likeness, resembling us, yet human like no one else is human. He made himself a slave and was vulnerable to all it meant to be a slave. But a ray of sunshine peaks through this reading when we hear God exalting Jesus and giving Him a name greater than any other name. Andrew Greeley once said we often see Holy Week as a memorial to events in the life of Jesus. That is right, of course, but he suggests we should be less oriented to the past and more to the present and future. As he put it, the events found in the reading of the Passion caused the followers of Jesus to know they could no longer fight “city hall,” that their dream was over. With few exceptions they all fled away. In today’s troubled world we might feel we are in much the same situation. Will this Palm Sunday in our own personal journey of “going up” take us to the heavenly Jerusalem or to a radical following of Jesus which leads to the Cross?
—Sister Mary E. Penrose, OSB
|Sister Mary E. Penrose is a Sister of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. She edits readings for the liturgical Hours and writes reflections for the Community. And she is a tutor for the African Sisters attending The College of St. Scholastica. She was editor of a journal, Spirit & Life, for 18 years.