Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion: 28 March 2021
|(Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem)|
1. Context of the celebration
As we commemorate Palm Sunday we are exactly one year since we began to feel the heat of the corona pandemic and its consequences. We have spent a year of anxiety and dreadful fear as some of us lost our dear and near ones, others experienced what this Covid-19 actually is with its nasty symptoms of temperature going up and down, body ache, unending cough, and throat infection. And others those with comorbidities and other ailments or illnesses had to postpone the surgeries, wait for the senior consultants in the hospitals to return to work, and so on. No other time in the history of humanity experienced such a worldwide phenomenon whereof the whole global world on its knees with illness. Currently, the world is carrying a cross; humanity is placed on its shoulder a cross which is undoubtedly heavy, unbearable, and uncomfortable. Only God knows how long this cross will be carried. In this context of having no respite of this global illness, we begin to commemorate this Palm Sunday which takes into the Holy Week where we will contemplate Christ’s last days on this earth as a human person. In fact, the Holy Week embodies one of the richest liturgical weeks in our Christian life. A lot of significance is attached to this special period called “Holy Week” with varied forms of symbols being expressed and our faith and love for our Lord Jesus Christ is renewed and strengthened.
2. Voice of people turns from resounding joy to bitter betrayal
On this Palm Sunday, we are asked again to be moved by the Cross of Salvation. In other words, the Cross of Christ should move us to see a future in God. Jesus is exalted as the readings of this Sunday liturgy tell us. Jesus is proclaimed as king by the voice of the people. Vox Populi, the voice of people becomes a popular sign in order place Jesus on the seat of power. This contrasts with the Passion story, which we also hear today. Unfortunately, this short-lived exaltation of Jesus by the people and his ride on a donkey on the streets of Jerusalem turns out to be a human drama of unfaithfulness, bigotry, and betrayal. Within a few days of the shouts of joy and the triumphant entry of Jesus into the Holy City of Jerusalem, Jesus is betrayed by his own people. At the court of Pontius Pilate when the scribes and Pharisees shout at the top of their voice “crucify him” not a single soul who put the garments on the roads and held the palms in the hands to usher a new era of Kingship of Jesus was not present to say “release him”. The human witnesses fail, falter and flee.
While speaking about our weakness or woundedness or fragility or incompleteness in ourselves, Sr Stanislaus Kennedy in her book Now is the Time writes “we must accept the shadow side of ourselves. True self-knowledge lays bare the fact that each of us is part light and part darkness, part angel and part monster. It is precisely at the point of acceptance of our fragility and our brokenness that true development and growth can take place.” Often it is our brokenness that we project on others and make others as victims. Probably, the scribes and the Pharisees of the time were so much given to the dreaded and useless religious laws and bigotry of the time they projected brokenness of the system of truth and justice resulting in rejecting the person of Jesus as their own flesh and blood.
3. Memory of the people is short-lived
The Gospels record the bitter truth of the reality of life that is ungratefulness. There must have been hundreds and thousands of people who experienced healing through Jesus’ consoling words and his healing touch. His words of wisdom and courage must have strengthened them and must have brought the families together. Many of the Pharisees like Simon and those who came to dine in his house with Jesus, Nicodemus who came to see Jesus in the night, Roman soldiers like Centurion, and others must have benefited from the proximity and kindness of Jesus. However, when Jesus is on his way to condemnation, not a single soul came forward to rescue Jesus or give witness so that he would be released. The memory of the people is short-lived. Perhaps this point is very important for us to ponder at the wake of the persecution of Christians in our own country. The number of lies and bad press mounted on the Christians and on their good works is a book in itself. The majority of people who receive help from us are non-Christians – Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, tribals, etc. either through our educational institutions, hospitals and dispensaries, social work centers, mass media and communication systems like community radio’s, popular journals, newspapers, through pastoral work in our parishes and so on and so forth.
Perhaps today is the day to see what is that makes people to forget the good that they received from us. With Jesus, we may have to ask "why did you strike Me?” (John 18:12) because for a long time nobody has asked why Nuns and their convents are attacked? Why are our educational institutions attacked by its own students, why our churches and simple Christian folks' homes or properties in places like Kandhamal in Orissa are destroyed? Where are those people who received the help from Fr Stan Swamy now when at the age of 83 is caged in the prison? Perhaps the caged bird may be singing as he himself writes but why the uncaged birds are not singing? Even though Jesus would tell us we should not expect anything in return but he would condemn those who are ungrateful for the services one received (The healing of 10 lepers in Luke 17:11-19).
4. People continue to inspire us
Just a few days ago, on the 24th of March marked the 40th death anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvadore and now Saint Oscar Romero. He was a person of the people who spoke about the repression and oppression of the poor and the people by the government of the time. Just a day before his assassination, Archbishop Romero denounced the government of the time with these words: "The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear a man telling you to kill, remember God's words, 'Thou shalt not kill’. In the name of God, and in the name of these suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuous, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression!” Archbishop Romero was shot dead on 24 March 1980, aged 62, while celebrating Mass. In the ensuing decade, some 70,000 Salvadorans were killed in the civil war. Even in our own country persons like Sister Rani Maria, Fr A T Thomas, Dr Graham Steins and his two sons, Fr Stan Swamy, people of Kandhamal continue to inspire us not to give up our faith but to speak the truth.
I am sure Palm Sunday and Good Friday have great lessons to teach us. Without Palm Sunday there is no Good Friday and no Good Friday without Palm Sunday. The reality of human existence is most often cruel and hostile. None of us is perfect, but this Holy Week, let’s try to be more like the joyful crowd on the way into Jerusalem. Let us be brave and speak out. Let us lift our voices and refuse to be quieted. As disciples of Jesus who have to follow the master not only in reading his life story through the lenses of history but also in actuality involving ourselves in his works of mercy and compassion whatever the consequences of such actions be. Because our gaze is always upon him, for we are moved by the Lord on the Cross.
Questions for Reflections
1. Can you think of a time in life when you have fallen in with the crowd, even though it didn’t feel right?
2. Or a time when you knew you should have stood up for someone or something, but like Peter, you just weren’t courageous enough?
3. Palm Sunday takes you to Jerusalem to be with Jesus in his final journey. Jesus knows the danger he is in. What’s your sense of how he’s feeling as he journeys? What keeps him moving forward?
4. This, and all the events of the holy week are being done for you. Speak for a few moments to Jesus out of that awareness.
God our loving Father, forgive us for the times we have lost courage and been unable to speak up for what we know is right, or when we have been too easily led by others. Strengthen our voice to speak from my heart. May those whose voices are often silenced because of varied reasons or exclusion make themselves heard at last. You know well the dangers that threaten to overwhelm us. We feel at times powerless to stop them, and we find ourselves in great need of your protection. Deliver us from evil, God, not only temptation but also the very real dangers we face these days. Make us realize that our lives are fully in your hands and that we only need to trust you. We make this prayer in the holy name of Jesus. Amen.
- Olvin Veigas, SJ
27th March 2021