April 13, 2014
Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
Matthew 21:1-11 (procession)
Matthew 26:14-27:66 or 27:11-54
From the moment we gather in procession on this Palm Sunday through the celebration of the Easter Vigil, we are surrounded by the sacred drama that rules our lives—the Paschal Mystery. This is the week we call “holy.”
Before the Triduum, we are preoccupied with the passion and death of Jesus. It is only natural that all suffering and death should be on our minds. When I lived in the Midwest, I thought the rituals surrounding the deaths that touched me were Catholic. Then when I came to the Pacific Northwest, I learned that they were Midwestern.
When my parents died, we gathered for two evenings in the funeral home. Until the burial, friends came to tell stories, to offer comfort and to try to take the place where a big man once stood. I think of those times during holy week as I consider Jesus’ followers after the crucifixion and before they saw the Lord again. Even though friends could not take the place where my parents stood they offered the distraction and consolation that enabled us to live with the emptiness. It must have been like that for those who gathered in the upper room and told stories of their time with Jesus.
But, there comes a time when we find the need to be alone--to empty self of what comes from the outside and concentrate on what is within. Holy Week is like that for me. My mind is filled with all manner of things and preoccupied with purposeful distraction at a time when I really need to make space for a greater reality. This week is, in a way, "empty tomb" time--the hiatus between being filled with faith and dealing with one's seeming infidelity. This is the time to leave all in the hands of the Lord and to discover that he rules life and death.
The progression of today's readings follows this same process. The seeming inactivity of Isaiah was an emptying of self so that the words he would speak would be the Lord's. The prophet's seeming inertia in the face of adversity made room for God to work. Similarly, Christ's emptying of self was, in the words of St. Paul, "a humbling for the sake of exaltation." The ultimate emptiness in human life is the death which Jesus embraced to make room for new life. It was not emptiness for the mere sake of death.
The Gospel is the story of the passion with which we are all familiar. Behind that story is the tale of Jesus' total life. It is the story of a lifetime of pouring self out for others. Each of us is called to empty self and embrace the cross. This is the meaning of the Passion Sunday liturgy. This emptiness and willingness to accept the cross is so that we might be filled with the life of Christ. Our anticipation of Easter fills the void so that we can fulfill our Eucharistic promise: to pour self out for others as Christ has been poured out for us.