March 27, 2015


From joy to sadness on Palm Sunday

We know this coming Sunday as Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday, the two words signifying the wide spread of emotions we Christians feel on that day. We go from the joy of waving palm branches as we enter our churches to the sadness that is caused by the reading of the Passion of Christ a short time later.

Jesus had been on his way to Jerusalem where, he continually told his Apostles, he would be crucified.

The night before his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus and his Apostles stayed in Bethany where Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, and Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary, gave a dinner for him. During the dinner, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet, much to the chagrin of Judas.

The Gospels tell us that the people learned that Jesus was there, and they wanted to see him because he had raised Lazarus from the dead. So Jesus made the entry into Jerusalem that we celebrate on Palm Sunday.

He did not go as a conquering hero, though, riding a horse. Rather, he fulfilled the prophecy of the prophet Zechariah who proclaimed, “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass” (Zec 9:9). An ass’ colt is a symbol of peace.

The people were rejoicing. The procession began at Bethphage, at the top of the Mount of Olives, 300 feet above the city of Jerusalem. Today the Dome of the Rock dominates the view, but then it was the magnificent Temple, reconstructed and enlarged by King Herod the Great. There, too, was Herod’s Upper Palace with three enormous towers, and the palace of the Hasmoneans, now serving as the Praetorium.

As Jesus and the Apostles descended the Mount of Olives, the people spread their cloaks on the road and cut olive branches from the trees (John’s Gospel says they were palms) and strew them on the road. They shouted “Hosanna,” a word that had come to be an acclamation of jubilation and welcome. They continued, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” from Psalm 118:26, Luke’s Gospel substituting the title “king” for the word “he.”

The Apostles were rejoicing, but Jesus knew that he wasn’t entering Jerusalem to receive the honors of earthly kings. He knew that he was entering to receive a crown of thorns and a purple robe to mock him. This jubilation would last for less than a week. He would be crucified five days later.

The procession into Jerusalem had its desired effect. It made the Jewish officials, who were so afraid of the Roman occupiers, determined to get rid of this troublemaker before the Romans clamped down on the Jews.

So Jesus entered Jerusalem in order to die on the cross for our salvation because that’s how his Father in heaven determined that it would be done. In John’s Gospel, in the same chapter as the entry into Jerusalem, Jesus said, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (Jn 12:27).

Therefore, in its liturgy, the Church rather quickly switches from the joy of Palm Sunday to the sadness of Passion Sunday. This year the passion reading is from the Gospel according to Mark, the first of the Gospels (John’s version is read on Good Friday).

We have used the words “joy” and “sadness” in this editorial. However, Pope Francis continually teaches us that Christians should never be sad, that we must retain our joy because Christ is always in our midst, even when our life’s journey comes up against problems and obstacles.

If we can’t be sad, though, we can feel empathy with Jesus as he underwent his horrible scourging, crowning with thorns, the way of the cross up to Calvary, and his cruel crucifixion.

As Christians, let that empathy be our goal this coming Holy Week, so that we may be ready to rejoice with Christ in his resurrection.

—John F. Fink

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