Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday - The Passion

Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday is the last Sunday of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week. Today we remember the Passion of Christ. Jesus entered Jerusalem while the people shouted Hosanna and threw Palm branches in his path.

Hosanna is an exclamation of supplication in a moment of emotion. The Palms are a sign of victory and joy. The people celebrated the Triumphant entry of the King of Kings into Jerusalem. Ironically just a few days later some of these same people will call upon Pilate to crucify Him.
Zechariah 9:9 prophesied this day. The account of the story is read prior to the procession with the palms and comes from Matthew 21: 1-10. In the Catholic Church, red vestments are used to symbolize the blood Jesus would shed as a result of His entry into Jerusalem. One procession with palms is done. Palms are used for the procession; however, other kinds of greenery can be used in its place, according to the Directory on Popular Piety and Liturgy. These sacramentals are meant to remind us of Christ and His passion. They are not magical items or meant to bring about superstitious beliefs. The Directory states: "Palms or olive branches should not be kept as amulets, or for therapeutic or magical reasons to dispel evil spirits or to prevent the damage these cause in the fields or in the homes, all of which can assume a certain superstitious guise. Palms and olive branches are kept in the home as a witness to faith in Jesus Christ, the messianic king, and in his Paschal Victory."    
Readings http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032915.cfm
The first reading during Mass is from Isaiah which is connected to Jesus. It reflects on how Jesus is a gifted speaker who spreads the Good News yet offends many or stirs up a commotion among the people. Because of this, He is beaten, his beard is plucked and He is mocked. This reading is a foreshadowing of the Passion of Christ. 
Despite being abused by the people, Jesus returned no insult or attack (1 Peter 2:23). He braved it all for the sake of all (Isaiah 53:4, Matthew 8:17). Today we live in a world where Christ’s message is not popular. Priests, religious, laity, and even our separated Christian brethren face all kinds of hardships just for speaking the name of Christ and what He stands for. The Word of God is being criminalized in many parts of the world. Legislation was recently passed in Indiana protecting religious freedom and is being met with heavy opposition, especially from celebrities and powerful businesses. This opposition shows us how bad the world dislikes Christ and religion. Elsewhere in the world, Christians are being killed just for believing in Christ.  While things may seem bad and scary, we must not fear. God is with us. We must be strong and not give in to the pressures of the world and preach Christ in season and out of season (2 timothy 4:2). Like Christ, we must bear it all for the sake of salvation. God is with us, no one can stand against us (Romans 8:31). It may seem like God has abandoned us and this is why the responsorial Psalm begins with this phrase. This Psalm is another foreshadowing of Christ’s passion. Christ Himself felt abandoned by the Father. However, this is not so. God was there present comforting Him and us as well who struggle today.
Finally, the Gospel tells the account of Jesus’ arrest and His last supper where He instituted the Holy Eucharist.  Christ defined for all the true meaning of the Passover meal by breaking bread and sharing wine which are His body, blood, soul and divinity. Like with the Hebrews during Passover, this meal protects us from the plagues in the world and prepares us for the Exodus to our spiritual promised land (Exodus 12:1-14).  The journey will not be easy.  We will be attacked by the world and will walk through the desert of life (Matthew 10:18, Exodus 13:18).

Furthermore, we read how Judas is there present during the meal. He sells out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Judas is the first to leave the first Mass at the Last Supper.  How many times do we see people leave Mass early? Perhaps we may have done it ourselves? We are imitating Judas the betrayer when we leave Mass early. In doing so, we make whatever we are leaving Mass for more important than Christ. Granted, there may be emergencies we may have to attend to, but this is where faith comes in. God will take care of any emergencies for us. 

Moreover, we continue reading how Christ tells the disciples how they will flee when He is arrested. Each boldly claims that he will not leave Christ. How many times have we been vain in thinking that we have total control of faith? How many times have we thought that we control grace in us? It is God who sustains our faith and nourishes us with His grace (James 4:6). We only cooperate by the suspension of our free will in order to submit to God’s will.  Christ then goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He cries tears of blood showing the pain and anguish He was going through.  We again see Christ’s humanity. He is one of us! He is the perfect Adam we must imitate (Romans 5:12-18, 1 Corinthians 15:45).  However, like the disciples, we often fall asleep when we are in His presence. Instead of praying, we slack off and get distracted to the point of dosing off. We must avoid this by asking God to teach us how to pray and give us the strength and demeanor to be in His presence to pray even when our human frailness gets in the way.  It is in prayer that we unite with God.

Lastly, we continue reading how Christ is taken to trial. The Son of God, God Himself is treated like a criminal. He is sentenced to be killed by way of Crucifixion. His crime is love (John 3:16). Christ came to save all, first to His own people the Jews. Ironically, it is sometimes our own that betray us. We must avoid being like the Jews of Christ’s time who were with Him, saw His works and still wanted no part of Christ. Like the Jews in the desert, they saw His works and still did not want to believe (Psalm 95:8). Christ is then made to go through a horrible death. First He is made to carry a heavy cross. Throughout the way, He is mocked, spat on, hit and falls down three times for the sins of the past, present and future (Hebrews 13:8). He dies on the cross and is buried. God is dead!

Today, this phrase still echoes among western societies throughout the world who have lost their Christian roots and especially in universities teaching our youth. Some believe philosopher Nietzsche to have coined the phrase “God is dead,” but this has existed way before his own birth. Christ is nailed to the cross and dies. The people of His time said, “God is dead.” The Son of God who performed miracles and preached the good news dies. We know that in reality He is still alive (Revelation 1:18). Man can kill God because God allows it out of love. Today’s age of secularism, atheism, and relativism shout, “God is dead, we have killed Him!” However, God is alive and well. He rose from the dead showing He is the God of the living and dead (Romans 14:9). He is the one who IS; who is dependent on no one for existence (Exodus 3:14).
We must not be like the Jews of the old covenant who saw and still did not believe, nor do we want to be like the Jews in Jesus’ times who like their ancestors saw Christ’s works yet did not believe as well. They even proclaimed Him as their king by throwing palms onto His path only to reject Him and call for His execution days later. We should not be like them. We must never lose faith nor let the world silence it as it grows more hostile to religion.  Today we lift up our palms, not like those hypocrites in the Gospel reading before Mass, but like those in Revelation 7:9 who see the Lamb of God, hold their palms out to Him in joy and wear clean white robes showing they are made spotless by the blood of Christ shed for all during His Passion.
Palm Sunday is upon us. Raise your palms high and let the world know that we are Christian and will not be silenced.  We are in Christ and no one can stop us.  We are the Easter people who defy all odds in the name of Christ the Lord (Philippians 4:13).    
May Christ teach us how to live and suffer in faith. Let us shout Hosanna to the King with sincerity and remain with Him through good times and bad times until the end of time comes.  May Jesus Christ be praised!

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