April 3, 2020

Christ the Cornerstone

Jesus’ triumph and tragedy leads to our redemption

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest’ ” (Mt 21:9).

This Sunday, we celebrate an unusual day in the liturgical calendar. It’s a day of both triumph and tragedy, a day that demonstrates most clearly the fickleness of human behavior, especially when people gather in crowds.

On Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, we recall Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem heralded by shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Hosanna in the highest!” But we use this ostensibly happy day to reflect on this same Lord’s cruel and undeserving passion and death on a cross. Once again, the Catholic “both/and” is used to reveal the truth about both sinful human nature and the extreme lengths that God will travel to redeem us and forgive our sins.

In the second reading for this Sunday (Phil 2:6-11), St. Paul proclaims the extraordinary selflessness of God:

“Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross”
(Phil 2:6-8).

What we celebrate on Palm Sunday is very far from “the lifestyles of the rich and famous.” Jesus may have been greeted as a superstar by the crowd, but his true greatness lies in his humility. All the power and majesty of God will be set aside in just a few days as he “empties himself” and takes on the lowliness of our human nature. All the joy and adulation of the crowd will quickly dissipate and become the ugly, rancorous cry: “Let him be crucified!”

This Sunday’s remembrance of both the triumphant entry into Jerusalem and the tragic passion and death of the most innocent man who ever lived is important for us today. We live in a time when extremes of love and hate, infatuation and disillusionment dominate our society and our Church. Social media reflect these extremes on an hourly basis. Pope Francis posts words of challenge and hope on his Twitter account, and thousands of people reply with messages that range from gratitude to venomous attacks and everything in between. As with Jesus, many greet the Holy Father with shouts of Hosanna, while others spit on him and say horrible things about him.

Fortunately, St. Paul reminds us that suffering and hardship are redemptive. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus whose self-sacrificing love has overcome sin and transformed our world from darkness to light.

“Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on Earth and under the Earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father”
(Phil 2:9-11).

The hosannas we sing this weekend—even as we meditate on our Lord’s suffering and death—should express our genuine joy and gratitude for the presence of our Redeemer among us today, and every day, in the sacrificial banquet we celebrate with him during each Mass.

Yes, there is ugliness and pain all around us. Even Jesus gave voice to his suffering and sense of abandonment when he cried out from the cross: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which St. Matthew tells us means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46)

Jesus was overcome with sorrow. He felt like giving up, but he did not. Instead, he forgave us our sins and commended his spirit to his Father.

The tragedy of Jesus’ passion and death became his triumphant resurrection, his complete and total victory over the power of sin and death. Evil still exists, but it cannot—and will not—win in the end.

The first reading for Palm Sunday (Is 50:4-7) anticipates the final thoughts of Jesus:

“I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
my face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.
The Lord God is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame”
(Is 50:6-7).

As we conclude this Lenten season and prepare for the Paschal Triduum, let’s ask our Lord to help us stand firm when we are faced with life’s tragedies (large and small). May we always maintain our confidence in the triumphant love of God. †

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