Opening Commentary: A Holy Week start that is “away” from the church.
Because of some mysteries of our Catholic Faith given by Christ Jesus, her Founder, do not think the Lord is apart from you this Holy Week. “He is Head of the Body, the Church.” Colossians 1:18.
We are praying Psalm 22 in today’s liturgy of Palm Sunday. It is commonly misinterpreted, no thanks to Christian interpretation divided from the Catholics, that Jesus Himself was abandoned in Holy Week by the Heavenly Father. I heard a contemporary Christian song singing this (wrong) belief in its lyrics that the Father had turned His face away from Jesus and left Him for three days in the tomb, as like rejected, because all our many sins were on Him, and that God the Father abandoned the Son out of that disgust and offense on the Savior. That is a very wrong interpretation. It sounds like we have a God that would do that to us, then, by such poor theology. One might, then, think that God was leaving us alone to suffer our present pandemic, and withdrawing from humankind. Not!
In Psalm 22, and on the Lord’s lips in Matthew 27:46, the prayer goes: “My God, my God, why has Thou abandoned me, forsaken me?” Some people mistakenly think here that God the Father abandoned Jesus until a Resurrection Sunday. It’s a Protestant twist on wicked humanity and our sins needing such a rejection upon Jesus, theologically. That’s not true, even while it is true that Jesus died for our sins. But why, then, did Jesus say something to the Father about being abandoned? It should be know that when Jesus was dying on The Cross, he was praying the Psalms. Psalm 22 has the abandonment line, yet if one is to keep praying 22 to its end, and into Psalm 23, the prayer is about deliverance, and that surely goodness and mercy shall follow Me in the House of the Lord forever. Jesus has entered, as God’s Son, fully into our humanity. He is an amazing God for doing so. It means that He has entered into our suffering (Ps.22) and our dark valleys (Ps. 23), but in saving us, He is most pleasing to the Father. He alone is good to save us. God embraced His Son, and did not reject or turn away on Him.
God is here in Christ, dealing again with the suffering world. With the world today getting sick and sometimes dying of the virus, as in with people dying of other causes, He’s entered into that. He has become the forerunner for us, even into death, death on a Cross (so says Hebrews, Philippians, etc.) And He is participating with us as God today and this Holy Week. Hear Psalms 22 and 23 on Jesus’ lips, saying to the Father, as from the Son’s humanity: ‘My God my God, I’m suffering like they all suffered. I’m with them in this. I understand what it is like then to have to go and face death. But for them I show trust in Thee. I pray for them: “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want; Who makes me to go to green pastures…to abide where my cup overflows… and surely goodness and kindness will follow me forever and ever more.’ From Psalm 22 into Psalm 23, Jesus prayed on that Cross knowing that He was going to be victorious. But first He would go to self-abandonment and then to face victory. He always taught that, from Beatitudes to Instructions in Discipleship, from “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” and “Blessed are The Meek” to “If anyone would be My disciple, they would deny their very self, take up their cross, and follow.
That’s where we’re going this week. We’re into self-abandonment (not in feeling rejection from God, but instead in humbling ourselves into His acceptance and Lordship). If the Covid19 crisis has not helped that to happen, then a person is cold to God and needs to pray more. We can experience transformation in God this Holy Week and Easter, to the victory of being led in victory by Jesus.
Intro to Homily
On this Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion we had the most unusual start of Holy Week, didn’t we? With many churches closed for the faithful to come and celebrate—for our safe distancing during the novel coronavirus crisis—it was nearly the opposite of the Gospel, with its description of a large crowd all huddled closely and processing with Jesus up to the Holy City. What a different experience to have—that we were all separated to our houses in 2020’s Palm Sunday—in contrast to our usual liturgical gatherings of hundreds in the house of worship! But please remember: We are still praying Masses and celebrating them. Our parish altar (and rectory altar) remains busy with our parish prayer and sacred offering of Christ Jesus as Sacrifice to the Father. Your prayers are united to the liturgy (and it’s why we are filming them for your co-participation). The Mass is our liturgy. Join in at home, praying in spirit, with your parish Mass. Make a spiritual communion in it at its Holy Communion time. I draw your attention to the Missal prayer said in the offertory time: “Pray brothers and sisters that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father.” My sacrifice and yours means what it prays. Therefore, please pray at home that the offering at your parish altar (and ours, the priests’) is our gift to the Father of Jesus’ own Gift.
We do still celebrate the Mass daily here, even without congregation. When we have the big liturgies, we have made it so that you may participate in this TV-style Mass from your home as members of Resurrection Parish. (In another comment: Since this Mass is pre-done, for web site viewing on You Tube, know that I will be doing a 10 a.m. Mass in the church exactly on Palm Sunday morning—just to keep the day—while it will be likely a solo Mass.) The pre-taping of Mass helps us to have lectors, a choir, musician, clergy, and more—all put onto a click-and play spot on our website for your convenient viewing on the actual day for the liturgy. We will do the pre-taping same on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday—in having filmed Masses. On the Sundays and feasts following, we will do the same for you.
I have a flash back memory of doing TV Masses in the 1980’s. I was an organizer and filming manager for the Sunday TV Mass for the Washington area. I would go to channel 4 and channel 9 studios and bring priests, lectors, choirs, and lay people to film Sunday Mass, usually a month ahead of the real date. The TV stations would then air the tape “live” in the Sunday morning slot. My name rolled on the credits.
Opening Gospel: Matthew 21:1-11
Readings: Isaiah 50:4-7.
Gospel: Matthew 26:14 – Matthew 27:66.
Filmed Homily Version (shorter) on Parish Web Site with link to the Resurrection YouTube Channel
We begin Holy Week 2020, which will be a most memorable one for the rest of our lives. Surely it is unique to history—the year almost all the Catholic churches were closed for safety’s sake.
Where do we start? Palm Sunday has us walking with Jesus. We have the procession into Jerusalem of our Lord. He has gone from Jericho, by the Jordan, and up the hilly roads to Bethany. He and His followers traverse through Bethpage, named as “the unripe figs house”—which is village where the animal is chosen for Jesus’ ride the rest of the way. This animal for the procession seems as pre-chosen, but we aren’t told the background. We do know there was an Old Testament prophecy of the Messiah doing so, though. Jesus knows and chooses most of how He will enter the Holy City to fulfill His destiny, and so, ours. Back in Bethany, when Mary ( of the Martha/Mary pairing there) asks to anoint him with her precious aromatic nard, and He consents, He explains to the apostles (and a complaining Judas) that the lavish act is His anointing for burial. They don’t comprehend it. Yet it signals something for Jesus to next do, and the procession to Jerusalem of His followers is planned and started in Bethany. Up to Bethpage they go, near where the Garden of Gethsename is located, and Jesus begins what is called the Triumphant Entry. Because we know the whole of the story, we can call it that now. Back then, Jesus knew He was riding in to Jerusalem to die. Before the week was through, He would be crucified and buried.
Yet let us go to the Palm procession. If we could transport ourselves into that scene, we’d note how the disciples and Our Lord are likely singing the Ascent Psalms on their pilgrimage up to Jerusalem. Did you know that they were Psalms 120 to 134? These are all written for prayers on one’s walk up to the Lord’s Holy City. (Check them out and pray them all as one sometime—it is a revelation!) That’s what is being sung, and the pilgrimage is a festive and expectant one.
Soon, the songs change to include frequent Hosannas. We know those Hosannas from our Palm Sunday and Passion liturgies. They are sung to the Blessed One Who is in the center of the procession—the One and Only Worthy Jesus.
He is taking us to the Cross and Altar of His Sacrifice, and then, through that passage of His Worthy Offering, to His Resurrection Mystery.
We know eventually all roads lead steeply up to this Jerusalem. Jesus is asking His followers to come along this way, with union to His suffering and dying, leading to His rising. We of 2020 know that our participation is very much a union with His Passion first. Those original people singing and marching up to Jerusalem may have expected something different. We figure the apostles were very worried for the danger of entering this “enemy territory.” Jerusalem contained those Jewish leaders intent on stopping and killing Jesus, and the Roman authorities who would comply with those wishes, if so pushed.
This is Jesus’ final journey up to the Holy City. As He is going up, picture yourself in the crowd with Him. Even though you are a 21st century person, ponder in that original journey up of how this is a celebration of the dying and rising mystery of your own life.
Dying and rising is the whole theme of Holy Week. We can sense in our Lenten exercises where we are right now in 2020’s Palm Sunday (in a quite dramatic year), are we aware that this walk with Jesus today is one in which we are invited to deeply to see our true self—and can we partake in this walk with Jesus of seeing better the suffering side of the story of the Passion of our Lord. Notice what Jesus wants you to carry out to Him—He wants you to bring your own sufferings along this way, and the difficulties in our life; and the challenges. Especially the present challenges. He wants you to see all the way to Jerusalem now and beyond now. See the victory of Jesus for you. See how He has delivered you of so many burdens, especially of your sins and of the fear of death. He wants your heart to be of good cheer, singing some Hosannas and Praise to Him. Jesus is leading this procession of The Church and His elect, and the finish is in Heaven with Him. It is a dying to rising mystery that Jesus leads.
Palm Sunday and Holy Week is not just suffering in Jesus’ Passion, for there is also rising in the story, one that leads to Easter Sunday, New Life in the soul, Resurrection, and triumph. The procession the Lord leads takes us to Easter, then through to the Ascension and on to the Pentecost Mystery, and of The Glory of God that opens up to those who follow Jesus.
Dying and Rising. One does the self-dying, in Jesus’ Name, and one gets to the rising, in Him.
Glory is the destination as we start this procession. Liturgically and by the way of prayer and faith, we take now The Way with Jesus, as if in the streets with palms to wave and cloaks (of service) to lay, heading up to the heavenly Jerusalem. (Yes, our destination is Glory—the Heavenly Jerusalem.)
In Catholic Faith and Holy Week, we truly enter into the story that Jesus lived out with his disciples, with all the people there around the Holy City. But it’s more than just an historical event looking back. For we know that Jesus has taken these events—of Him entering the world as Incarnation—and He has re-presented them to us to live today, as real participation with Him. The re—presenting aspect of Catholic Faith is our Sacrament Life in Jesus. We are united to Him in this special manner. We experience Jesus and house Him in our souls as through Baptism, we celebrate His cleansing of us in Reconciliation—even while getting dusty and dirty by sins on this walk of life, and we celebrate the Holy Eucharist as His soul nourishment and strength to keep walking together in faith to Glory. We Catholics celebrate many Sacraments, as Christ among us. We celebrate the Incarnate Lord, Who has promised to be with us always, even anointing us in His Holy Spirit. Sacramental Life has enabled this Grace of God to be with us. (Note: We anointed someone on this day, who called for her priest, needing the Holy Oils and Prayer of the Church with them in a hour of deep need. See James 5.)
We live everyday as people who are in The Lord’s Presence. While being in Holy Liturgies in Holy Mass is the pinnacle experience, there remains a connection by Sacrament of the Lord to wherever you are. And wherever you are is noted by God and He connects you in Himself, We have some serious suffering going on. Jesus says: “Come along with Me, for though yours sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow”(—by My Actions) and I shall bear your iniquities, and take and shoulder your sorrows… for I am meek and humble of heart, and you shall find rest for your souls (in Me).”
We certainly hear in the readings today that Jesus has suffered for us. He’s even had a last gasp which we’ll be hearing about, especially on Good Friday. And He knows His people who struggle with breath with this Covid-19 Coronavirus, in this terrible pandemic going on in the world. The Lord knows what it is to take a last gasp. And it was not the end for Him, though the Gospel text says “He breathed His last.” For there was more to come in His Rising.
Jesus is a God Who comes to be personally with us and in us on the journey, and He says that He willfully and lovingly has come down from Heaven as the Eternal Son of God to unite Himself to us. His life and death is a Coming of self-offering. And so this is the true story of the Holy Season: it’s all about self-offering, self-giving, sacrifice, and unconditional surrender to God, as Jesus demonstrates it among us. It’s our meditation for all of Holy Week. It is a journey of dying to rising. After the self-offering and surrender to God with Jesus’ Heart, then comes the Glory, rising like the dawn. (“More than sentinels for the dawn, so my soul waits upon You, Lord”—goes an apropos Psalm). So after the Dying there’s the Rising, and then there’s the celebration for the faithful one, the great reward is what they receive for their obedience and their living in the self-donating, sacrificial, and unconditional love of God. The self-dying or denial brings about this grand Love reunion with God. It’s the meaning of Jesus’ Rising: a Grand Love Reunion is in order!
I love the phrase “Hosanna” and its full prayer that is used in this opening liturgy of Holy Week. It’s a pilgrimage and ascent to Glory song. It’s a phrase we fittingly and reverently speak in every Mass: “Hosanna, Hosanna in the Highest! Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts. Blessed is he who comes!” We’re heralding Jesus, we’re joining in with all those people who have said this, are saying this, and will be saying this. We are saying it with fellow pilgrims of the Lord Jesus as He heads us to the Father and the Heavenly Jerusalem.
In each Mass, as they keep going on continually in the world, in every minute of every day, there is the time each liturgy reaches its praise time: “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts. Hosanna to the Son of David to Jesus Christ, to the hoped for one, the Anointed One.”
Do you realize what is going on within the Hosanna prayer? We join the throng in Heaven in this prayer and we join back to the original ones who were on the roads with palms heading up to Jerusalem with Jesus. Who were in the streets there with Him originally? Martha and Mary were there, being right in Bethany as the ascent gets started. Lazarus their brother is in the throng, alive again and walking along, still to the amazement of onlookers of him. (Just imagine what it was like to be Lazarus in that moment, as he joined in the giving of Hosannas with the crowd walking besides The Son of David.) There were likely several others in the procession who had been healed and touched by Jesus. Their hearts are devoted to Him, now. We have Mary the Mother of Jesus close by her son now in those final days of His ministry. In this model disciple and of her immaculate heart and purity of life, she knows more than the others do in the procession. She knows it is heading to the immanent, ultimate moment of Jesus’ ministry. A pain is starting in her heart. While seriously concerned of what lies ahead, Mary delights in the crowd’s enthused moment around her son. Many disciples are around in the Palm procession in this 33 a.d. one, not sure of knowing what Jesus can do for the people and the faith, at that juncture, but happy to enter along in the parade-procession on the road. Picture yourself back then in the crowd, and take note of Jesus astride an animal. Cloaks and palm branches fill the road ahead of His approach. Cheers and songs are given. Many Jews are on the road up to Jerusalem anyway, for it is near time of a holy day, when Jerusalem is in the Jew’s focus. Likely, numbers of them are just caught in all the excitement of this spontaneous parade, and in the boisterous singing of Psalms and Hosannas.
And so they’re going up. Picture it now. Jesus is going up and they’re singing in the streets. We join in as it is presented for us to go along with Jesus. As in how we do things Catholic, we bring the Mystery into our present faith and we pray our hearts become stirred with fervent prayer. We have the Sacred Liturgy, and this year, participating in it at home, we enter along in this journey as however and wherever we can for a Palm Sunday of The Lord’s Passion. Take note, however. In this 2020 context, we head up now toward the New Jerusalem with Jesus. We’re going “up” with Him.
He has us joined as His body, the Church (Colossians 1) to keep going forward in faith. Thus, we pray:
Blessed is He Who Walks In Our Midst. Blessed is Jesus. Who Comes in the Name of The Lord. ###