Luke 19:28-40 (at the procession)
March 27-28, 2010, Passion (Palm) Sunday - Cycle C
My first tendency when I started thinking about the homily today was to go right to the passion. One commentator I read said it is almost as if we cannot wait to get to the part in the Passion where we get to yell out, "Crucify Him, crucify Him!" As if some how participating in the crowd reaction we can purge ourselves of some faint sense of guilt at having caused Jesus' death. Others see in the violence committed against Jewish people around the passion that this crowd response is scapegoating, trying to deflect attention to our sin to those who surely were more responsible. For 7 or 8 years up until last year, we switched from the traditional reading of the passion with assigned parts to a more narrative proclamation where readers in turn proclaimed all the parts. Part of the reason the Church gave us that new approach was to counter the anti-Semetic sentiment (and actions) the historically had been attached to the Passion. As the note in your Breaking Bread missalettes after the Good Friday passion states clearly, the crimes that were committed against Jesus cannot be attributed to the Jewish people, then or now. Jesus was not murdered by the Jews, explicitly or implicitly, and we cannot refer to the Jewish people as rejected or cursed as if Scripture says so. The Church keeps clearly in mind that Jesus, his blessed mother, and the apostles were all Jewish. Jesus freely chose to suffer and die because of the sins of all, so that all might be saved.
The reason I like the other approach to reading the passion was that it let people put the books down and listen. The scripture readings at Mass are meant to be proclaimed and listened to, not read. Cognitive science is starting to give us the evidence that our minds process listening very differently from reading. One scientist states that, "...It seems that when people read information, they have a greater tendency to read what they already know, whereas when their imagination is captured by the sound of a voice, the seeds of meaning get planted in the subconscious, allowing it to grow in it's own time..." I would strongly urge you this Friday to put the books away and listen to the Good Friday proclamation of the passion.
Several of the commentators I read suggested that it might be good to pause a little before we sink into our contemplation of the suffering Jesus underwent in his passion and spend a few moments reflecting on that story we heard at the blessing of the palms. This is a story we only hear briefly on Palm Sunday. When we stop and reflect on it, this story holds many truths we should stop and pay attention to.
This was a parade unlike any we are likely to experience in our day. There was no media blitz. There were no organizers, no vendors selling Messiah dolls or soaps on a rope, no t-shirts, banners, cameras, police, or brass bands. It was just the people. In their naive, simple religious awareness they were drawn to this Jesus, wonder worker, healer, and authoritative teacher. Steeped in the schooling of the prophets and the psalms, they instinctively knew what to do. Shout Hosanna, cut palms and wave them, throw their cloaks on the ground. They somehow recognized this Jesus as worthy of this biblical response. This was no rock star, no World Series or Super Bowl champion, not even a conquering hero back from war. They gathered to shout Blessed is he who comes, roughly dressed, riding on the back of donkey, and even that wasn't his.
Let us stop a moment and enter into that moment, as we gather here at Eucharist to give praise and glory to God, to sing Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Let us too celebrate today before we lower ourselves into the suffering and death later in the week. What lesson can we learn from this outpouring of religious fervor from the heart of simple, yearning people. How obstinant we are, 2000 years later, that we still don't see that God uses the simplest, the marginalized, the unpretentious for his plan of salvation but instead we chase after money and power and the trappings of the rich.
I would close by inviting you to close your eyes for a moment and listen the G. K. Chesterton's reflection on the entrance to Jerusalem from the point of view of the donkey carrying Jesus.
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born;
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.