Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
April 5, 2020
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today we read two Gospel readings: two very different Gospel readings.
The first shows the tremendous love and welcome
poured out on Jesus as He enters Jerusalem for the Passover feast.
The second shows the terrible contempt and rejection
heaped on this same Jesus just 5 days later.
On Sunday He is greeted as the great king of Israel,
but by Friday He is treated as a criminal.
At first we hear shouts of hope: “Hosanna to the son of David”,
but in the end we hear what seem to be words of despair:
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
In a strictly human sense we could place ourselves in Jesus situation.
Can you imagine the thrill we would have if we were the one
riding into Jerusalem with the whole city seemingly calling us
the new King.
But then could you image the devastation we would feel when
in so short a time as five days
we fall from these heights of adoration,
to the depths of being arrested,
spat on, whipped, condemned to death, stripped
and nailed to a Cross.
So in a strictly human sense we can understand
how someone in Christ’s situation
might yield to despair, and cry out to God,
“My God, My God why have you forsaken me.”
In fact, some of might us have experienced this in a very real way
–maybe this situation hits close to home, to close.
Maybe you remember the happiness of your wedding day,
but today you look at your marriage, and see only arguing and bitterness.
Or perhaps you remember the joy of the birth of a child,
but now that child has left home, or won’t talk to you, or has even died.
Or perhaps you remember when you were younger and innocent,
and how happy you were in God’s presence,
but now you see your life wallowing in sinful habits,
that separate you from your loving Jesus .
And of course, a month ago our country had a robust economy,
with records set in the stock market and employment.
We’d finally put all the bickering of the impeachment behind us,
and we were largely at peace with other peoples,
But now, a month later, we lead the free world in reported coronavirus cases,
and the pestilence has frozen almost our entire society,
locked us in our own homes, and devastated the economy and jobs.
And, of course, the doors to the church are locked as I say this holy Mass alone.
“My God, My God why have you forsaken me.”
We read these two gospels and we say,
“yeah I can understand why Jesus would feel that way.”
But there’s a slight problem with that.
While Jesus does allow Himself to experience the emotional pains of
the loneliness of rejection and being hated,
and the humiliation of the abuse and ridicule heaped on Him,
as well as the physical pain of His excruciating torture and crucifixion,
we cannot read His words on the Cross to mean
that He believes He has truly been abandoned by His Father.
As St. Paul reminds us in today’s the second reading,
this man who we know as Jesus Christ,
was in reality also God the Son.
He had existed from all time as co-equal to the Father.
But He did not cling to, or “grasp” at that equality.
Instead, out of love for us, and in loving obedience to the Father,
He stripped Himself of His glory and took on our human nature,
“coming in human likeness.”
Out of love for us He took to Himself all of our weakness and vulnerability.
He was like us, we’re told, in all things but sin.
But He came to take that sin upon Himself,
not by sinning, but by living with our sins,
even when they directly afflicted Him,
and taking all of the sins of all time on His back and,
as it were, paying for them.
We human beings sin
–we act in ways not in perfect conformity with the will of the Father.
Jesus came into the world to make up for our sins,
to make up for our lack of love for the Father,
by giving the Father one a perfect life of perfect love
–being humbly obedient to Him even to His death on the Cross.
So on the Cross,
while He was in tremendous human emotional and physical pain,
He also knew that He was doing the will of His Father
–He was accomplishing what His Father had sent Him to do.
And He knew that His Father would never abandon Him
–never abandon the Son who had created the world with Him.
When Jesus cries out in a loud voice:
“My God, My God why have you forsaken me,”
He’s not crying in despair—He hasn’t forsaken hope in His Father.
Instead, He’s doing what we should all do when we are in pain,
fallen from the heights of happiness, to depths of desolation.
He’s praying: He’s quoting the first line from the 22nd Psalm.
It was the Jewish custom of quoting the first line of a Psalm
to refer to the whole Psalm.
Remember Jesus was weak on the Cross
–He could barely breathe, much less recite the text of a long psalm.
But He yells out these first words of the Psalm
as vocal prayer for the crowd to hear,
for them to know the whole prayer that was in His heart.
We heard part of the 22nd Psalm in today’s responsorial psalm.
It begins with the prayer of a man who has felt the brunt of life’s heaviest blows,
whose life has reached its lowest point possible
–even though all his life he has trusted in God.
He describes himself:
“I am a worm, and no man; scorned by men, and despised by the people. “
In fact, it’s a Psalm which is exactly prophetic of the Crucifixion:
“they wag their heads [and say]:
‘He relied on the LORD; let him deliver him,
let him rescue him, if he loves him.’”
“they have pierced my hands and feet, I can count all my bones”
“they divide my garments among them”
“for my vesture they cast lots.”
A picture of Christ on Calvary.
But then the Psalm changes direction
–it is in fact the prayer of man
who seems to have reason to despair, to give up,
but refuses to.
As the psalm becomes a prayer of praise
because he knows that God will not forsake him.
Jesus, in this one line, is both praying with confidence and praise to the Father,
and telling the crowd that the apparent victory of their sin
will soon be wiped away by the glory of God.
What begins in seeming defeat, ends in victory for the Lord.
Because, as St. Paul says of the Christ’s loving acceptance of the Crucifixion:
” Because of this, God greatly exalted Him
and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name …
Jesus Christ is Lord.”
As we enter into Holy Week,
we intensify our reflections on the mystery of the Cross.
And the Church calls us to remember that
no matter how low we think we have sunk either in personal misfortune
or in our own sinful way of living,
we can still hope that in Jesus Christ
we too can be glorified by the Father through the Cross of Christ.
As St. Paul reminds us, “[Our] attitude must be Christ’s”
If we have sinned,
Christ offers us the forgiveness of the Cross in the sacrament of penance.
If we are in despair by our troubles, Christ offers us the love of His own heart,
which is so graciously found in His Body, the Church.
And if we yearn to draw closer to Him,
to have our lives transformed by His love and grace
–He gives us Himself on the Cross,
and in His resurrection, and in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
This coming week is the most solemn and holy week of the year.
We remember the Lord’s Supper, and His suffering and death on the Cross.
To more deeply enter into the unfathomable mystery of this week,
remember that from the Cross comes glory,
from Christ’s death comes our eternal life.
And as we think of the horrible suffering of Jesus, and hear His heartrending cry,
“My God, My God why have you forsaken me”
let us also remember the words of St. Paul:
“Because of this, God greatly exalted Him
…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”