Palm Sunday is simply amazing. It encapsulates almost all of Holy Week, giving us a preview of what will unfold in the next five days. In the Gospel reading from Luke (19:28-40) which is proclaimed during the procession, Jesus speaks with authority to his disciples and gives them authority to act on his behalf: “Go into the village opposite you, and as you enter it you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. And if anyone should ask you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you will answer, ‘The Master has need of it.’”
He enters Jerusalem triumphantly, as a king, with cloaks laid across his path, and the people glorifying God: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” And so strong and heartfelt is this praise that when the Pharisees ask him to tell his disciples to cut it out, he replies that even if they do, the stones will cry out! Praise to God cannot be held back by any earthly or human power.
While Jesus is portrayed as triumphant king, he is a king of a different ilk. There are no trumpets, guards, or banners preceding his entrance into the city. Rather, Jesus is a king of the people, a king of mercy, of humility, and of obedience. A king who relies not on himself or armies, but on God, as the first reading from Isaiah (50:4-7) tells us. Psalm 22 stands in sharp contrast to this, or so it seems at first. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Yet as the psalm develops, we see a turnabout, with the realization that God has been there all along: “But you, O LORD, be not far from me; O my help, hasten to aid me.” The feeling of abandonment turns to one of confidence and praise. We, too, are called to remember that even in our most dire need, when God seems far away, we are not alone. God is always with us.
The second reading, from Philippians (2:6-11) points to Christ as our example. In humility, the Son of God became man. He further humbled himself by accepting complete obedience, becoming a servant to all, and aligning his will with the Father’s will. We, too, must endeavor to become humble and to accept God’s will for us. Becoming aware of God’s will helps us to remain in his presence, just as focusing on God’s presence in us helps us to align our will with his. There is a certain amount of reciprocity there.
The Gospel reading from Luke (22:14-23:56) comes almost as a shock. Jesus says farewell to the apostles, is betrayed, tried in court (twice!), tortured, and put to death. Why did this tragedy have to happen? How did the people go from praising Jesus and God to asking Pilate to crucify him? Their hearts were hardened. They expected a military Messiah. There was a certain mob mentality. Take your pick. The upshot is that in the plan of salvation, it was necessary for it to happen.
During the Last Supper Jesus taught the apostles by example to be servants to one another. He also instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist, by which we still receive the bread and wine of life today, Jesus’ own body and blood, through which, when received with the correct disposition, we can become what we eat. By his Passion and Death, Christ died for our salvation, a new covenant of love.
As we proceed through Holy Week together, we will have more opportunities to reflect together more deeply on each step of Jesus’ journey.
Sister Paule Pierre Barbeau
Sister Paule Pierre Barbeau is a novice at Saint Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. Originally from Quebec, Canada, she lived in the Southeastern United States for 16 years before coming to Duluth. She did research in the field of exercise physiology for over years, and more recently completed a graduate degree in theology, while volunteering in parishes, giving workshops and retreats.