Today we take up branches and palms, just as the enthusiastic Israelites did, to welcome our Messiah with “Hosannas” and begin Holy Week. Yet we know how the story ends: from enthusiastic crowds to a lonely and cruel death on Calvary. How do we go the distance and accompany Our Lord with Hosannas from the procession to the crucifixion?
We have two Gospels today, one before the procession, and one narrating the Passion. This year both Gospels are taken from Mark. In the first Gospel people are paving the way for Our Lord to enter Jerusalem, but anonymously. Two “disciples” go for the colt that he’ll ride. Bystanders inquire as to why the disciples are taking the colt, but don’t interfere. The crowds pave the way for Our Lord, putting down cloaks and leafy branches in his path. Some may have just tossed down a branch or two and headed home when the parade passed them by. Others joined in procession with him into Jerusalem. As we begin Holy Week we can ask ourselves how committed we are? Are we paving the way for Our Lord?
In today’s First Reading the prophet Isaiah describes Our Lord as the Suffering Servant, a servant not only committed to his master but also to those willing to go the distance. He is sent to rouse the weary, not the rested and enthusiastic. He is faithful and obedient day after day, not just in a flash of glory. He remains steadfast and does not harbor resentment over what is being asked of him. He takes all the abuse people dish out. What keeps him going day by day is the certainty that he is serving the Lord and will not be put to shame by him, the only one whose opinion really matters. Our Lord served us in this way, and we’re called to imitate him. It doesn’t matter how hard, how ungrateful, how exhausting him seems. In his eyes, when we are faithful, day after day, he is proud of us, just as his Father was proud of him.
In today’s Second Reading Paul teaches us that the consequence of Our Lord’s tireless service is not just an execution, but an enthronement. Exaltation literally comes from the Latin exaltatio, which means “raising on high.” Today we see Our Lord exalted on the Cross. He is literally raised up, but also glorified in the process. There are not many people on Calvary who believe in him, but it is on Calvary that he earns our Hosannas and deserves them.
In today’s Passion narrative we see Our Lord progressively abandoned by the religious authorities of his people, by the crowds of “fans,” and by his friends. A stranger must be forced to carry Our Lord’s cross when he cannot go farther alone. How lonely it is on Calvary. In Mark’s account the women who followed him were there, but where were the Apostles? Suddenly a quiet figure comes onto the scene: Saint Joseph of Arimathea. He was an unknown in this story until this moment, a quiet follower of Our Lord. He steps out of the shadows and goes straight to Pilate to ask for Our Lord’s body.
Saint Joseph of Arimathea’s example should embolden us as well. The Apostles, except for Judas, came out of the shadows when it was all over. We should consider Passion Sunday a dress rehearsal for what we’ll live on Good Friday. Mistakes happen in the dress rehearsal, but there is still time to rectify them. Let’s not just gather around Our Lord at the moment of enthusiastic hosannas and parades. Let’s gather at the foot of his Cross on Calvary.
Holy Week starts with the Passion and culminates with the Easter Vigil on Saturday Evening. From today to Holy Saturday morning there is time for you to make an appointment at Calvary. Make the time. Spend some time alone at the foot of a crucifix, whether at home or in a church or chapel. Remind yourself that Our Lord is on the Cross for you. Don’t just speak to him. Ask him to speak to you.
Readings: Mark 11:1–10; Isaiah 50:4–7; Psalm 22:8–9, 17–20, 23–24; Philippians 2:6–11; Mark 14:1–15:47.