With this liturgy we stand at the threshold of Holy Week, the week in which we commemorate the profoundest mysteries of life and death, of God and man, of love and sin. We’ve prepared for forty days to step into Holy Week and remind ourselves that by doing so we step into a new life won for us by Christ at a high cost. We mustn’t take this step lightly.
We have two Gospels today, one before the procession, and one narrating the Passion. In the first Gospel Matthew reminds us that Our Lord took the first step humbly, just as we should do. He didn’t commandeer the ass on which he rode into Jerusalem; he borrowed it. His disciples made a great commotion with a lot of fanfare, but they also showed at the same time that they still didn’t completely get it. “Hosanna to the Son of David”: He was the Messiah and they expected him to clean house, to become a great political and military leader with miracles and fulminations in his wake. “This is Jesus the prophet”: He was the miracle-machine.
We know he was more than a prophet or a political leader with divine aid, and we also know his mission was conquest by Cross. Within a day their convictions were shaken to the core. Holy Week is a time for considering our convictions in the light of Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. They may need some shaking up too.
In today’s First Reading the prophet Isaiah, describing the Suffering Servant, reminds us that Our Lord knew he was in for suffering, but if it was in the Lord’s service it was worth it. We call today “Passion” Sunday not because of Our Lord’s passionate love for us, even though he does love us passionately in the true sense of the term. Passion comes from the Latin word passio, which means suffering, undergoing something.
Our Lord enters Jerusalem knowing a new level of suffering is at hand, but he does not hesitate, because the stakes are our salvation. If we think life is hard, imagine how hard it was to set Heaven aside even a moment and become man as Jesus did. Yet he not only became man, he became a servant of all, and servant who suffered for all.
In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that Christ had no need or desire for more glory, yet he did something for us and for his Father worthy of even greater glory.His Incarnation was lowly and poor. He didn’t take half measures in his mission by becoming a child of royalty living in palaces. God became a slave. For us. He taught us humility and obedience so that we would follow his example.
In today’s Passion narrative we walk with him in his last hours of angst, betrayal, solitude, and pain when what he sought from us (and for us) was peace, loyalty, communion, and joy. There’s not much more to say: Our Lord’s actions on our behalf say it all.
The Passion narrative is long, too long to plumb all its meaning by just hearing it once a year (or even twice). This year’s narrative is Matthew, why not take the text this week and meditate on a little of it each day leading up to Good Friday? If you participate in the Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday it will help you connect much more deeply to the mysteries we are celebrating.
Readings: Matthew 21:1–11; Isaiah 50:4–7; Psalm 22:8–9, 17–20, 23–24; Philippians 2:6–11; Matthew 26:14–27:66.