Palm Sunday is an odd event emotionally. We witness two Gospel incidents that are juxtaposed during one mass–a triumph celebration and a horrific death, both of one man. As listeners to the Word, we go from a high of singing hosannas to a low of shouting crucify him! The one who brought ecstatic joy now is rejected and reviled. Even during the entry into Jerusalem, we stand in the shadow of the cross, knowing where this all will lead.
Few of us embrace the cross. Some crosses are huge and heavy; others are lighter and bearable. Jesus is our mentor in picking up the cross given. He is the model on how to approach it. Today we learn some valuable lessons in the readings.
In the first Gospel reading of Luke 19, I was struck by a couple of concepts. The first is that Jesus knows that which he needs must be untied. In this case it is a colt but I could not help but think how we must be untied too from all that binds us in unhealthy ways, all that which keeps us stuck and fearful, and all that needs to be freed before we can do the will of God. May we know in the untying that the Lord needs us, just as he needed the colt. Without it, we tie his hands and then that he cannot do what is necessary, even if it is painful. The Pharisees try to tie those gracious hands by demanding that he order his disciples to stop as they parade into Jerusalem. Jesus will not have any of it.
The other thing that spoke to me is how we think we understand the mysteries of God but clearly in this reading we do not. How often do we celebrate something that holds greater meaning than we know? Later we look back and acknowledge that we could not have predicted such a different outcome. We get caught up in the moment. I do not think this is a bad reaction. We must celebrate moments of life as they present themselves. We do not always need to know how the story will end. At times, it is better to stay in the moment.
The second Gospel is the passion reading. Jesus gathers with his friends for a final meal, sharing bread and wine, giving thanks, and sitting together in the ever-growing shadow of the cross. The new covenant is established. Christ will soon be betrayed and abandoned. The mystical plan is falling into place and no one understands. The disciples fall asleep, just as we do when circumstances are too much. An angel stops by to add strength to Jesus in his time of prayer. We may be enveloped in that dark shadow but we are never alone.
The action shifts as Judas greets Jesus with a kiss–an intimate betrayal occurs. Another disciple uses violence which Christ curtails, touching the severed ear of the slave and healing it. Peter flees in fear, denying the One he loved. Somehow he manages to find enough courage to follow at a distance and to remain within the eye of the storm. His eyes may never have left his Saviour but it is not until their eyes meet that Peter truly knows his sin and failings. We all respond differently to the crosses that others must bear.
Christ is ridiculed and mocked. Not everyone believes he is who he says he is. Nasty shouts arise. As if a struggle is not enough, sorrow is added to the cross by those who deny what Jesus has done. In the film, Miracles from Heaven, someone in the congregation refuses to believe the Beams’ story. When I saw it, some members of the audience reacted in disbelief at the comments made, but I know firsthand how people say things without thinking through the words that are being spoken. I too have said hurtful comments.
We know the end of this part of the story. Christ is crucified but not before leading several people to salvation–one of the criminals killed with him and a centurion. Right up to our dying breath, we have a purpose and it remains for me to love, honour and serve God. When it is all over, the faithful women, a righteous man, and even Pilate in surrendering the body to Joseph, pay their respects for this Jesus who has moved beyond the shadow of the cross to the grave. The story is not finished yet though. Surprise endings are the best.
What remains from your Lenten journey that can be untied and used for God’s glory during this Holy Week?
What story is unfolding for you that requires trust and patience?
Untie me, Jesus! You have need of me in ways I do not comprehend but I surrender to your plan. Blessed be your holy name now and always. Amen.