Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion: Jesus’ Entry to our Center of Power

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Photo by Redemptorist Vice-Province of Manila

Today in the Catholic liturgy, we celebrate Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. This  marks the beginning of the Holy Week–the holiest of all week which celebrates the paschal mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ–his passion, death and resurrection. Today’s Sunday is also called Passion Sunday. Passion is from the Latin word, passio, which means suffering.

Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem recounts Jesus entering into the center of power–the temple of Jerusalem–of Israel. Naturally, some of the powerful men were threatened by Jesus’ triumphal entry; they did not want the people to welcome Jesus in Jerusalem like a king:

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him,
“Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”
He said in reply,
“I tell you, if they keep silent,
the stones will cry out!”

This Holy Week, Jesus will also enter the center of power of our own lives. As Jesus enters into our core, the sinful structures we have built within our lives will be threatened. Jesus will challenge us to confront the contradictions of our lives.

The liturgy today depicts contradictions. This is shown in the sort of split personality tone of the liturgy. The gospel starts upbeat as Jesus’ entered Jerusalem like a king. The people took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out:

“Hosanna!
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,
the king of Israel.”

In the second part of the liturgy, however, the upbeat mood suddenly changed to a violent and tragic mood as we listen to the stark reading of Jesus’ passion. The glorious cry of “Hosanna” is turned to the cruel shouts of  “Crucify him!”

Indeed, the passion of Jesus is a story of contradictions. Jesus is depicted as king with a crown of thorns, a staff and clothed in a purple cloak. The soldiers spat on him and struck him on the head with the staff repeatedly. The people who shouted hosanna to our king when Jesus entered Jerusalem just a few days ago are the same people who shouted “Crucify him!” and elected Barabas to be released on the day of Passover. The greatest of these ironies is the cross. Jesus on the cross with the sign “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews,” died of a slow, painful, excruciating, gruesome, and humiliating death.

We are not outsiders of this greatest tragedy. We are not mere spectators. As we listen to the passion of Jesus every Lenten season, it deeply disturbs us and unmask the profound existential paradox and inner struggle within us. While we eagerly want to share in the glory of Jesus, we cringe at the thought of suffering let alone dying with him.

This holy week let us welcome Jesus to enter triumphantly into the temples of our lives; to confront the contradictions and sinful structures of our lives. Let us become aware of our resistance to let go of the things that gave us power, dominance and control and not allowing the gospel of Jesus as the guide of our lives. Let us admit our hypocrisies that while we worship  Jesus inside our churches, we participated in his crucifixion by our collusion with the prevalence of evil in our world today. Let us carry the cross with Jesus by embracing the suffering of others.

May you truly have a holy week!

 

 

 

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Memorable Palm Sunday

This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday. It is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of Holy Week, which commemorates the triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. During Palm Sunday Mass, parishioners carry palms in a ritual procession into the church. Many parishes have integrated various creative elements and contextualizations into this procession. Baclaran shrine is no exception. One memorable, albeit hilarious, incident of this kind of “creative contextualization” happened during the Palm Sunday celebrations in the shrine in 1974. This is narrated to us by the late Fr. John Maguire, CSsR. 

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On a Palm Sunday in 1974, April 7th a large crowd witnessed an event that left them spellbound and with a real feeling of what Palm Sunday was all about.

The actors in the event were a zealous and creative priest, a man who made his living selling “fireworks” and a white horse. The priest was Fr. Vincent Warren who was then the Prefect of the Baclaran Church. He was a man of great ideas and lots of creativity. He had planned for many weeks for the Holy Week ceremonies and had decided that he should try to imitate the real events of the first Palm Sunday.

It was not easy to find a colt, (a young horse) or a young donkey but someone told him that there was a big white horse in Tondo which had featured in many movies, was unbelievably tame, and could be depended on to remain calm in any type of situation.

The man selling “fireworks” was just an ordinary vendor of “fireworks” who, for a reasonable fee, would guarantee to produce the right effect at the right time.

And so on the 7th April 1974, Palm Sunday, they all came together for the big event. The horse arrived early and showed all the qualities for which it was renowned. It was completely unfazed by the crowds of people and even let little children touch it. It was slightly surprised when the tall six-foot priest appeared in a huge red Cope (liturgical cape) wearing a crown like a king, however, it remembered its breeding and pretended not to notice.

The priest tried to mount the horse and for a while the horse resisted but eventually it agreed and at last Fr.Warren was seated in glory on the white horse in cape and crown ready to head for Jerusalem (or at least the church door). Everybody was thrilled and full of excitement.

The “fireworks” vendor remembered that he was supposed to let off the fireworks at the appropriate time. This was surely the appropriate time. He got a Kuwitis (sky rocket) and lit it. Unfortunately, he was situated about two meters behind the horse. Swoo-sh-sh-sh-sh-sh boom!!!!!

The horse rose on his back legs and started to urinate. The priest “gracefully” slid down the horses back over his tail and was caught by a few kind people standing by. Everybody laughed until their ribs hurt.

Sometime later the priest and the horse were seen heading for the church door side by side. Everyone said that it was the most memorable Palm Sunday since the first.

John Maguire, CSsR