April 2, 2023
by Eileen Burke-Sullivan
Creighton University - Retired
click here for photo and information about the writer

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion Lectionary: 37 and 38

Matthew 21:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
Philippians 2:6-11
Matthew 26:14—27:66

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The 1st Four Days of Holy Week - 14 min. - Text Transcript

Pope Francis' powerful Palm Sunday homily


Weekly Guide for Daily Prayer

Writing a reflection for Palm Sunday is intimidating because the Scriptures are so rich and complete that reflection could (and should) go on for hours, days or even weeks.  In fact, the Church generally gives us the content of these texts in smaller bites throughout the year just so we can begin to absorb the fullness of this series of events and the meaning of God’s plan for all humans embedded within these texts.

Intimidated or not, the invitation of the Liturgical day pulls us to a “geography of faith” from mountaintop to gorge and back to hilltop and finally into the garden of creation embedded in the City of Peace (Jeru-shalem) – all in the perfectly complete symbol of seven days.

Just a short time ago I returned from a pilgrimage where we went from one mountaintop in northern Spain following the pilgrimage of Saint Ignatius Loyola – across a broad plain to another mountaintop of transformation and then on to the City of Rome where Ignatius lived out the fullness of his pilgrimage of discovery of himself and of God’s will for him.  This geography of faith is remarkably similar to that which Jesus walked in the week between Palm Sunday and Easter.

The first Gospel of Palm Sunday – this year from Matthew – begins outside the worship space where a crowd gathers to welcome him with palm branches and hosannas of praise.  This short text begins with the statement “Jesus and the disciples. . .  came to the Mount of Olives near the village of Bethphage.” Like the people of the village and Jerusalem itself, the Church recognizes its Lord at this first mountaintop, but will not recognize God’s plan for him and for us to descends to the valley, celebrate the Passover meal, and ascends the Mount of Golgotha to be crucified unto death toward the end of the week.

The rest of the story moves to the humility of true humanity: as glorious as the human is in creation, the human is not God and even fails to be fully human much of the time.  This knowledge comes from suffering – most of all suffering the rejection by other humans that one is created to be in union with. The knowledge also comes from acknowledging our collaboration with causing that suffering for others and for our own self destruction.

Why do we humans despise the one who loves and saves us?  Because we are so arrogant that we do not want to NEED to be loved and saved.  We hate the one who rescues us because we don’t want to need rescuing.  We project the fear and hate we feel for our fragility and limitedness on the one who will redeem us from such limitedness and join us to Divine life.  This, then, is what Jesus endures for us in the valley between the mountains – the truth of our createdness.  We are not the masters of our fate, the creators of our own future.  We are subordinate to the Will and Desire of the Creator – and we hate even the fact that that will and desire is for us to be fully alive and happy – but on God’s terms not our own.

At the end of the second week of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius we pray for the gift of true humility – that is for the truth of ourselves to be known and loved.  Then, in this process of spiritual awakening, we enter the Third Week where our prayer is answered in-so-far as we align ourselves with Jesus, who accomplished perfect humility. “Though he was in the form of God he did not deem equality with God something to be stolen (grasped at)” Saint Paul tells us in the New Testament reading before the Gospel of the Passion is read.  Here at the center of the word we are handed the key to the whole week ahead of us.  If we would be faithful to our baptismal promises and live in the Body of Christ we must embrace this humility of God’s own Son. 

The Church then leads us through the passion account according to Matthew.  There is much to meditate on in this long and descriptive text, but my prayer led me to the verses about Peter’s denial that he even knew Jesus.  Here is the point of our times, perhaps writ large.  We want to deny that we have anything to do with Jesus.  He who loves us so much that he gives everything of himself to give us full humanity and his own Divine life – asks us to stand with him in his suffering. Like Peter I often say “no.”  I pray that each one of us who fails to love, see Jesus’s gaze and feel the grief at our failure that Peter felt.

May this Holy Week bring you (and me) from mountaintop to mountaintop – from truth to truth or humility to deeper humility – and then to the Garden of New Creation where Jesus dwells.

“The centurian . . . said. . . ‘truly this was the Son of God.’”

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