PASSION SUNDAY 2021
Today, following weeks of preparation, we palpably feel rejoicing and gladness. As Christ enters the city riding a donkey, surrounded by his followers who pave his way with greenery, there are opposing forces at work. We see, on one hand, the triumph of our King, which we proclaim with shouts of ‘Hosanna!’ Joy, rejoicing, a sense that everything is going to be OK pervades this special Sunday celebration. Our Messiah is here. On the other hand, we know that this rejoicing will, for a time, be short-lived. It precedes a terrible time of anguish which we are about to mark during the Easter Triduum.
To be able to zoom out and see the whole Gospel picture of the Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus is a most blessed grace. And we are the inheritors of that grace. Unlike those who were the first to strew the pathway with branches in honour of their Lord, we know what happened next. We see the fickle nature of humanity, but also it’s beauty and integrity. Most of all, we are able to place the passion and death (which occurs directly between the joy of today and the rejoicing of Easter Day) in its correct place. By doing so, we are able to see, in a special way, what it was all for. For those who were there, including the disciples, the unfolding of all these events would have seemed in part or even completely incomprehensible. We know that our spiritual ancestors, the disciples, found it difficult to understand what Christ was saying. They struggled with this all the way through the ministry of their King. Yet they followed, all the same. They gave themselves, amid the unknowing, to a God whom they trusted.
It is a grace, then, to see the whole Gospel message. But it also has grave dangers, the most notable being that we normalize it. It becomes like a play, a pageant, that we enact each year. We can lose the footprint to where it all leads. The mystery, joy, pain and salvation of this story can be trivialized. Most worryingly, we can become experts. We can think that we know everything that there is to know. All of this leads one way. It leads to us becoming Scribes and Pharisees. In all organized religion there is a pharisaical shadow lurking. It is one of our temptations, perhaps especially when we don’t realize it.
We strive, then, to reject our normalization of the Passion and the death of Christ. And we can use Passion Sunday as our window into a truer celebration of Eastertide. Rather than simply going through the motions, perhaps we can work to place ourselves inside this Gospel season. Actually BE there, in the crowd, alongside Jesus. Let the story come to life, because it is after all the genesis of our own personal salvation. He did it all for us. Let us imagine ourselves there, with palms in hand, waiting to greet Jesus our King. What would our reaction be? What would we do, what would we say and think? Enter more fully into the Gospel during these days, and we shall come to meet Christ in a fuller way.