The Gospel proclaimed to begin the Palm Sunday procession recounts Jesus’ Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem, accompanied by exuberant pilgrims – today, I guess, we’d call them “fans” - acclaiming Jesus as Israel’s messiah and king, to the apparent consternation of the city crowd that didn’t quite know what to make of this. The rest of the story, what we call the “Passion,” proclaimed during the Mass which follows the procession, reveals the ultimate destination of Jesus’ journey – to the cross & the tomb. We, of course, are the intended beneficiaries of this. It all happened, as we say every Sunday in the Creed, for us men & for our salvation. So it is no accident that the cross is the central symbol of Christianity, because the cross of Jesus is precisely where we meet God in our world, just as the tomb – the eventually empty tomb – shows us where he is taking us. In a world where suffering & death always seem to have the last word, the death of Jesus was God’s great act of solidarity with us in our ordinary day-to-day suffering & our ultimate mortality. In itself, of course, there is not much to be said in favor of suffering. Nor can it be claimed (at least not without further qualification) that we are automatically improved or “ennobled” somehow by suffering. On the contrary, one can – and people do - live one’s entire life imprisoned alone in anger & resentment - and then die that way. Jesus, however, gives us a counter-example, as every word he utters in his passion, as well as his every action, show him wholly in harmony with his Father’s will, his Father’s plan for the salvation of the world. Holy Week invites to accompany Jesus - to the cross and to the tomb … to be challenged as Peter and the disciples were to identify with Jesus in faithfulness, … to be invited as was Simon the Cyrenian to identify with Jesus in service, … to be converted like the centurion, … and, finally, to remain with him like Mary Magdalene, … because, thanks to Jesus’ cross, death no longer has the last word in our world.
Homily for Palm Sunday, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, April 17, 2011