Palm Sunday is here! So begins the Holy Week; so begins the moment when the Church commemorates the events of the Paschal Mystery of Christ. The celebration of Palm Sunday presents two key events; the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem as King and the proclamation of his passion. Today, we celebrate a king not defined by earthly powers but of peace and simplicity, a king of the poor and the oppressed. Interestingly, all of these marks of the kingship of Christ were perfectly demonstrated in the events of his entrance into Jerusalem. The Book of Zechariah 9:9 already prophesied such humble entrance of the Messiah: “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey,” and indeed Christ perfectly demonstrated the fulfilment of this prophecy, thereby declaring publicly that he is the promised Messiah. Yet, intertwined with this glorious celebration is the proclamation of the events that will lead to the suffering, crucifixion, and death of Christ – the promised Messiah.
Who will believe and accept that the One who is meant to save the people will also have to face persecution and death? A messiah is what he is meant to be, and not a victim of the sufferings of his people? The Jewish people had long expected a messiah; the anointed one who will rescue them from the shackles of their oppressors and lead them to liberation. They had long waited for a king and they were correct in this part of their expectation. Jesus’ usage of a donkey (colt) as the means of entrance into Jerusalem therefore proves that indeed he is the long expected king. The people recognized the significance of riding on a donkey, for, in ancient times, donkeys were significantly used by kings and their emissaries. Hence, they displayed great joy during Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, chanting songs of praises as they followed Jesus: “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” Hosanna in the highest!” They proclaimed Jesus as the messiah and welcomed him as a king with their cloaks and tree branches being spread on the roadway before him, as is typical of welcoming a king.
That explains what we also do on this day, with palms in our hands, as we chant songs and dance in procession before Mass. How then did such a joyful event turn a sorrowful one is so short a time? To carefully present the two-fold character of this celebration, we read, before our own procession into our churches today, the gospel account of the glorious and joyful entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, and just during the mass the Passion narrative is read to us; such a mixture of emotions running through the liturgy in the same celebration. The passion narrative presents the plot of the chief priests and scribes against Jesus, the betrayal of Judas, the abandonment of Jesus by his disciples, and the incitement of the crowd by the Jewish authorities against Jesus. How sad it is to see people who had been the recipients of Jesus’ glorious deeds giving up their loyalty in the twinkle of an eye! How sad it is to have such a multitude of people who had just chanted “Hosanna!” in honour of Jesus, abandoning him and condemning him to death! Sadder it is to have all his disciples flee during the moment of his arrest, and the denials of Peter at a moment when his loyalty was being tested.
Nevertheless, all of these are simply affirmations of the lot of Christ, as prophesied by the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading, and the reality of his acceptance of such a lowly state for the salvation of mankind, as presented by St. Paul in the second reading. Though a king, he emptied himself and took the nature of a slave, all for the salvation of humanity. Indeed, he is the messiah who has come to save humanity. Our own celebration of Palm Sunday today is a call, first, to show solidarity to Christ as we begin this most sublime week when the events of our salvation are being reenacted. Secondly, it calls us also to firmness of faith expressed in total loyalty to Christ. We must stand firm with him through these moments of his passion, and that can only be actualized when we do His will. How else can we do this if not by following his path? The life of Christ continues to be the model for us. His entire life was wrapped in the message of peace, humility and love, even in the face of death.
We too are called to put on the veil of charity, peace, humility, and total obedience to the will of God. Our various levels of authority should give us the reason to serve God and humanity even more, as we model our lives on Christ; the One who was in the form of God, yet emptied himself, took the nature of a slave and became like men. Our loyalty should be expressed all the more in faithfulness to our Baptismal vows and our identity as Christians, as through sin, we become unfaithful stewards and are no better than all those who denied, rejected and abandoned him at the moment of his passion. Finally, we must not be caught up in the euphoria of the joyful moments of the celebration of the Palm Sunday, but stay focused on his invitation to us to express full and unflinching loyalty to him, in total acceptance and obedience to the will of God in our lives. May Christ make our celebrations fruitful, and lead us all to the fullness of joy with the coming events of our salvation, through Christ our Lord. Amen.