19 years ago this coming June, on what was my second day in Israel, my former novice director took me to a village in Samaria for the 1st Mass of a newly ordained local priest. We all gathered at the village boundary around an arch of palm branches and balloons and waited there for the new priest’s entry into his hometown. As the procession began and all the villagers started shouting and waving palms in the air, my former novice director smiled and said: now you see what Palm Sunday looked like!
The Gospel [Mark 11:1-10] read before the Procession a short while ago tells us about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem for the Passover holiday and his truly triumphal entry – minus the balloons but full of messianic symbolism – into the Holy City. The rest of the story, which we have just heard, [Mark 14, 15] reveals the next phase of that journey – to the cross and to the tomb.
The cross stands as the central symbol of Christianity because the cross is precisely where we meet God in our world, just as the tomb – the eventually empty tomb – shows where he is taking us, where we now watch and wait with Mary Magdalene and the other disciples.
Meeting Christ on the cross we somehow sense a new connection with God that we would hardly have felt if he himself had not done what we all have to do – and are all so afraid to do – die.
Jesus is God’s way of participating in our human world, God’s great act of solidarity with us in our day-to-day suffering and our final mortality.
In his Passion, Jesus confronted the power of evil in the world. Having done so, he invites us this week to accompany him to the cross and to the tomb – because, thanks to the cross of Christ, death no longer has the final word in our world.
Homily for Palm Sunday, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, April 1, 2012