Palm Sunday C - Homilies and Stories

“Either give up Christ or give up your jobs.”

Constantine the Great was the first Christian Roman emperor. His father Constantius I who succeeded Diocletian as emperor in 305 A.D. was a pagan with a soft heart for Christians. When he ascended the throne, he discovered that many Christians held important jobs in the government and in the court.  So he issued an executive order to all those Christians: “Either give up Christ or give up your jobs.” The great majority of Christians gave up their jobs rather than disowning Christ. Only a few cowards gave up their religion rather than lose their jobs. The emperor was pleased with the majority who showed the courage of their convictions and gave their jobs back to them saying: "If you will not be true to your God you will not be true to me either.” Today we join the Palm Sunday crowd in spirit to declare our loyalty to Christ and fidelity to his teachings by actively participating in the Palm Sunday liturgy. As we carry the palm leaves to our homes, we are declaring our choice to accept Jesus as the king and ruler of our lives and our families. Let us express our gratitude to Jesus for redeeming us by his suffering and death, through active participation in the Holy Week liturgy and reconciliation with God and His Church, repenting of our sins and receiving God's pardon and forgiveness from Jesus through his Church.  
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Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration 

The text in the Missal (p. 123: ‘Dear friends in Christ …‘) cannot be bettered. However, care should be taken to read it as if it were one’s own notes so as to stress the notion that we are entering into the Great Week, accompanying Christ in the Paschal Mystery. 
Passion Notes

1. For those who seeking in the gospels an historical record of the events of Jesus’ life, the passion accounts present an awful problem: for the most crucial event in the whole story the early churches had at least four different pictures. When Christians today think of Jesus’s death their picture is invariably a mixture with the people drawn from John and the general scene from the synoptics. Christ is flanked by two other crosses (Jn 19:18; but a detail common to all four), and standing near him are ‘his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene’ and John (Jn 19:25-26). Nearby also are soldiers casting lots for his clothes (Jn 19:23-25 but with parallels in all four). The scene is one of darkness covering the earth (Mt 27:45; Mk 15:33; Lk 23:44 — a darkness unknown in Jn). Against this conflation, it is worth noting how Luke sets out his scene as it allows us to see his particular perception. The scene of the crucifixion is dark (Lk 23:44) not only in terms of light, but in terms of the courage of his followers: those who knew him, men and women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching the event unfold (Lk 23:49). Near him there are a crowd of spectacle lovers, scoffing leaders and mocking soldiers (Lk 23:35-36). In Matthew and Mark both criminals also taunt him (they are silent in John), but in Luke (23:39-43) we have the dialogue of the Good Thief whose opening words are a confession that Jesus is suffering as an innocent man (23:41). The centurion’s confession is found only in Mark (15:39) and Luke (23:47), but while in Mark this is a christological statement, in Luke it is a declaration of the imiocent suffering of Jesus: ‘Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, and said, “Certainly this man was innocent!”.’ Luke, uniquely, adds another detail at this point: ‘And all … who assembled to see the sight, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts’(23:48).

2. A convenient way to see how Luke’s passion differs from the other is to note those items which are proper to him. These present Christ as the righteous one who is faithful to the end alone. Luke presents Jesus as alone from all those whom he had spent time with, eaten with, and been with in the good times; yet in the dark hour his goodness still shone out and transformed people. While his long-term followers were lying low, Jesus was gathering new witnesses to his truth amidst the moral chaos which was his crucifixion. The sense of finality is heightened at the beginning of the passage when Christ states his longing to eat the meal (the final meal in a whole series of meals in Luke) and that he shall not drink wine again until the kingdom comes (22:15- 20). It is also seen in his instructions for the church after his departure (22:35-7) and his warning to Jerusalem (23:27-32). His aloneness is pointed out in the prophesy that the disciples will desert him (22:21-3 and 33-4), and this is fulfilled in the detailed story of the triple denial of Peter (22:54-62). By this time Luke presents all the disciples as having fled. By the time of the crucifixion — in stark contrast to John from whence comes our familiar picture of John, Mary, and the other women standing beneath the Cross — there is not a single friendly face nearby: his acquaintances (hoi gnóstoi) and the women stand watching at a distance (23:49). In the end the only ones who acknowledge him are outsiders who at least recognise him as a good and righteous man: Pilate, a criminal, and Roman soldier. Luke alone has Pilate recognise him as one without fault (23:5; 14-5; and 22); similarly he alone has ‘the good thief’ incident who states that this man has done nothing wrong (23:39-43); and finally the centurion, but while in Mark 15:39 and Matthew 27:54 he states, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’, here Luke has him state simply: ‘Certainly this man was righteous (dikaios).’

For Luke Christ in his passion is utterly abandoned, and he in turn abandons himself to the Father to do the Father’s will (22:22, 29, 37, 42-3). This abandonment reaches its climax in the final cry from the Cross (23:46).
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Michel de Verteuil
General Comments

The Palm Sunday procession is a living lesson in liturgy. By inviting us to imitate the actions of Jesus entering Jerusalem and the crowd welcoming him, the Church wants us to experience that the story is still being lived today. Whenever people of faith decide to confront evil at its source, and do so with inner freedom, remaining faithful to their values, Jesus is once more entering Jerusalem.

We have the same experience by meditating on the gospel texts and recognizing ourselves in them.
Each of the gospels tells the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in a distinctive way. In St Luke’s account, which we read this year, there is first of all the very significant verse 28, which describes Jesus “going on ahead of his disciples.”

The events described in verses 29 to 34 are found in all the synoptic accounts, a sign that the early Church found them highly symbolical. Some take the story as evidence of Jesus’ supernatural powers, but it could merely be evidence of his self-confidence as he faces his great moment of truth, a mark of true leadership.
 
In St Luke’s account, it is the disciples themselves, entering alongside Jesus, who are moved to excitement at this moment.

A small detail, but clearly significant for St Luke: the disciples “helped Jesus on to the colt.”
The people do not wave palm branches in St Luke’s account, but their gesture of spreading their cloaks in the road before Jesus is both a sign of their wild excitement and their welcoming him as a king.

The cry of the people in verse 38 echoes the song of the angels at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:14).
The brief dialogue in verses 39-40 can be interpreted in different ways. The Pharisees in question may have been followers of Jesus who were afraid of confrontation and wanted to protect Jesus. Or they may have represented the first assault of the opposition to Jesus. In either case his answer expresses his inner freedom very dramatically.

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John Littleton
Passion Reflection

The account of the Passion of Jesus Christ, which this year is read from St Luke’s Gospel, invites us to reflect deeply on the price that Jesus paid for our redemption from the consequences of our sins. Surely this fact alone is sufficient meditation for an entire lifetime.

For example, there are disturbing details about the betrayal, torture and crucifixion of Jesus. There are descriptions of the shameful cruelty and inhumanity of the crowd and soldiers. There are, too, several depictions of the goodness of a few people who were quite concerned about how Jesus was being treated. And, of course, there are the words spoken by Jesus that demonstrate clearly his mission and his total self- giving, through his suffering and death, for the sins of all people.

Perhaps, then, it may be helpful to focus on just some of the passages from the Passion account and use them in our prayer and reflection during Holy Week. What are the particular phrases and passages that strike us when we read the Passion? The following inspire us to become more appreciative of God’s love for us in Christ and motivate us to repent for our sins:
• ‘Then he took some bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which will be given for you; do this as a memorial of me”. He did the same with the cup after supper, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which will be poured out for you”.’ (LUKE 22:19-20)
• ‘Among pagans it is the kings who lord it over them, and those who have authority over them are given the title Benefactor. This must not happen with you. No; the greatest among you must behave as if he were the youngest, the leader as if he were the one who serves. For who is the greater: the one at table or the one who serves? The one at table, surely? Yet here I am among you as one who serves!’ (LUKE 22:25-27)
• ‘Jesus replied, “I tell you, Peter, by the time the cock crows today you will have denied three times that you know me”.’ (LUKE 22:34)
• ‘Pray not to be put to the test.’ (LUKE 22:40)
• ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine.’ (LUKE 22:42)
• ‘Pilate was anxious to set Jesus free and addressed them again, but they shouted back, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (LUKE 23:20-21)
• ‘Daughters of Jerusalem do not weep for me; weep rather for yourselves and for your children.’ (LUKE 23:28)
• ‘Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.’ (LUKE 23:34)
• ‘Indeed, I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise.’ (LUKE 23:43)
• ‘Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. With these words he breathed his last.’ (LUKE 23:46)
• ‘When the centurion saw what had taken place, he gave praise to God and said, “This was a great and good man”.’ (LUKE 23:47)
Key questions for us during Holy Week are: how do we treat Jesus? Do we praise him when we are in the church and when we celebrate the sacraments and then quickly betray him as we return to sinful living?

As we accompany him on his journey to Calvary, will we stay with him or will we — like many other people — abandon him?
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Homily Notes

1. The Missal says that ‘a brief homily may be given.’ There is definitely a case today for taking up this permission to omit the homily altogether; not because such an omission might shorten an already long liturgy, but since we have just come through one of the longest verbal elements in the whole of the liturgy (the passion), another verbal event (a homily) does not bring contrast or help the gospel reading to sink in. A better way to highlight what has been read would be a couple of moments of structured silence (e.g. ‘Let us now reflect in silence on the passion of our Saviour’) before standing for the Creed. On the subject of the length of today’s liturgy we should remember that length of time is one of the key non-verbal ritual cues that humans use to indicate special importance: a crucial symbolic event that is over in a moment, or takes just the same length of time as an ordinary event is an anti-climax – do not forget that Christmas dinner must take longer than an everyday meal. Because this is a special day opening a special week, it should md must take a noticeably longer time than an ordinary Sunday.

2. If one does preach, then the brief comments should be directed introducing the week as a whole rather than particular comments on the readings. This could take its starting point from the gospel outside – that Christ has arrived at, and entered Jerusalem, and that ‘his hour’ has arrived. As Christians we are sharers in this event.

3. If the situation calls for a meditation rather than a homily, then a suitable meditation is provided in the Christ-hymn (the second reading) as a way of interpreting the events narrated. However, rather than re-reading it directly from the lectionary it may be broken up into its verses and read with pauses. The version used in the Office is better for such use than either the RSV/ JB. Better still, have it sung by a soloist and simply introduce as the earliest Christian meditation we possess on what we lve just recal1ed about the death of Jesus.

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Apparent Disaster

Jesus Christ was not the first man to die for a cause, nor the last. He was not the first or the last innocent man to be put to death. He was not the only one ever crucified. There were on that same day two others. Even as regards physical pain it is at least possible that others have suffered as much. What then makes the passion so different? And it is undeniably different.

The gospel account is roughly about two newspaper columns long, and even though I’ve read it, or heard it read hundreds of times, it still affects me. I wonder why? I think the answer lies in the details – the completely human and utterly shabby circumstances in which Christ died.

Take for example the behaviour of his friends. Was there ever such a complete let-down? Judas, one of the specially chosen twelve. One can feel the hurt, almost the unbelief in Christ’s gentle words, “Friend, why are you here? Judas would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?’ One could almost stomach the betrayal of Judas had the other eleven remained faithful. But one short line tells their story “And they all forsook him and fled.” And Peter – surely not Peter. Think of all those miracles Christ worked while Peter was by his side. He raised the dead child to life, set him walking on water, was transfigured before him. Only a few short hours before, Peter had boasted, “Even though all abandon you, I will follow you to prison and to death.” – but at a distance, a safe distance. And when he was cornered a jibe or two from a servant girl looking for notice, Peter the Rock disintegrated. “He began to curse and to swear that he knew not the man.” That must really have hurt Jesus. “And Jesus turning looked at Peter and Peter went out and wept bitterly.” And these were his friends, his only friends. The people he lived with and loved. The people he showered his miracles on and shared his secrets with. And not one of them lifted a finger for him.

What has this story to do with us? It is the story of our salvation. But it is more, much more. It is the story of our lives. There isn’t a part in the whole sordid script that we, you and I, wouldn’t play to perfection. Peter in his pride and Peter in his fall and, hopefully, Peter in his repentance too. We’d fit in perfectly with the disciples who fled at the first sign of danger, or with Caiaphas and the high priests, with their self-righteousness and eagerness to reform others while ignoring themselves, or with Pilate in his abuse of authority, or with the mob with its thirst for excitement and blood. And Judas? Let’s face it – there’s a Judas in all of us. There are times and situations in all our lives when Jesus could easily say to us as he said to Judas, “Friend, why are you here?” The truth is, it was only his friends who could really have crucified him so.

Like us in all things but sin

“He was oppressed and was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth” (Is 53:7). For the followers of Christ, this Isaiah text evokes a response deep down within us, seeing how they apply to God’s only beloved Son, and how he died for all of us. In the words of St Peter, “without having seen him you have come to believe in him, and so you are filled already with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described” (1 Pet 1:8). Without this sincere love of Christ, we are no true followers of his. We cannot say we fully love him, until we appreciate what he suffered for us.

Having just heard the Passion narrative there is no need to retrace in great detail the events there described. But we might reflect how Christ was no stranger to hardship, privation and suffering, long before that final day of his life. “Being in the form of God,” as St Paul says, from the moment he came on earth, Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are (Phil 2:6f). He, the most high God, suffered the hardships of the poor, at times not even having a place to lay his head. He endured hunger and thirst, and after long days surrounded by crowds seeking a cure, he often spent whole nights at prayer in the hills. Despite his compassion for all who came to him, he met with hatred and rejection, in particular from Pharisees and priests, who planned to have him killed. How this rejection and hatred must have grieved him. King Lear knew “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is, to have a thankless child;” and how must Jesus have felt at being rejected by the people he had chosen, above all others.

The cruelly disfigured face was the face of the Son of God. The forehead streaming with blood, the hands and feet nailed to the Cross, the body lacerated with scourges, the side pierced with a lance, these were the forehead, the hands and feet, the sacred body, the side of the eternal Word, made visible in Jesus. Why such suffering? We can only say with Isaiah, “It was for our transgressions he was smitten, for our sins he was brought low. On him lay the punishment that brings us healing, through his wounds we are made whole” (53:5ff). God, our Father, grant that your Son’s suffering for us may not be in vain.

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Scripture Reflection

Lord, there comes a time in the lives of all of us when we, like Jesus,
must enter into a radical confrontation:
- those in authority have been abusing their power;
- we finally recognise that we need help to overcome an addiction;
- some members of our community have betrayed the cause and must be excluded;
- we need to give up our comfortable situation and move into something new.
At these moments, give us
- and especially those of us whom you have called to be leaders in our communities –
a share in the inner freedom of Jesus,
so that like him we can go on ahead of the rest, as we go up to our Jerusalem.
Help us like Jesus to make our arrangements confident that they will come to pass,
and to allow ourselves to be put in a position of authority.
Help us to be so confident of our cause
that if someone told us to check our followers
we would know that if they kept silence, the stones would cry out.

Lord, we thank you for glorious moments of grace
- we found a friend whom we felt we could trust perfectly;
- we enjoyed intimacy with our spouse;
- one of our children did us proud;
- a new social movement arose in our country.
We were like the disciples when Jesus approached the downward slope of the Mount of Olives:
we joyfully began to praise you at the top of our voices for the miracle which we had seen.
We cried out, ”Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
We glorified you in the highest heavens.

Lord, it is strange how when the moment of grace comes,
everything seems to fall into place very naturally.
If we need something, we find as the disciples did on the first Palm Sunday,
that all we need say is, “The Master needs it,” and immediately all obstacles are removed.

Lord, we pray that as a Church we may not betray our young people.
Often we lack the courage of our convictions,
are too anxious to please them, and do not go ahead of them.
But when young people today meet leaders who challenge them, they joyfully praise God,
they are ready to spread their cloaks in the road before them,
and welcome them as kings who come in the name of the Lord.

“The important events of history are the thousands of humble actions that heal and reconcile.”    Cardinal Arms of Sao Paulo in Brazil, 1994
Lord, we thank you for the many humble people who enter Jerusalem in peace.
As we think of them, we praise you at the top of our voices
and cry out, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.”

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ILLUSTRATIONS:

1. When The Cheering Stopped

Some years ago a book was written by Gene Smith, a noted American historian. The title was "When The Cheering Stopped." It was the story of President Woodrow Wilson and the events leading up to and following WWI. When that war was over Wilson was an international hero. There was a great spirit of optimism abroad, and people actually believed that the last war had been fought and the world had been made safe for democracy.
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2. President Wilson in Europe after the War:

On his first visit to Paris after the war Wilson was greeted by cheering mobs. He was actually more popular than their own heroes. The same thing was true in England and Italy. In a Vienna hospital a Red Cross worker had to tell the children that there would be no Christmas presents because of the war and the hard times. The children didn't believe her. They said that President Wilson was coming and they knew that everything would be all right.

The cheering lasted about a year. Then it gradually began to stop. It turned out that the political leaders in Europe were more concerned with their own agendas than they were a lasting peace. At home, Woodrow Wilson ran into opposition in the United States Senate and his League of Nations was not ratified. Under the strain of it all the President's health began to break. In the next election his party was defeated. So it was that Woodrow Wilson, a man who barely a year or two earlier had been heralded as the new world Messiah, came to the end of his days a broken and defeated man.

 It's a sad story, but one that is not altogether unfamiliar. The ultimate reward for someone who tries to translate ideals into reality is apt to be frustration and defeat. There are some exceptions, of course, but not too many.  

It happened that way to Jesus...  
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3.  Debtor's Prison:

One of the most gruesome, hopeless places in early nineteenth century England was "debtor's prison." Charles Dickens described it, but thousands of England's poor lived it first-hand. Everything the debtor owned was confiscated. Nothing was left. If any debts still remained, debtors were imprisoned until the balance owed could be paid. Which, of course, could never be, because the debtor was locked up. It was a situation without hope.  

That was "civilized" nineteenth century England. But according to ancient Jewish law, there were moral limits on what could be demanded in payment for debts. Among those things that were legally "off-limits" was a person's most important piece of clothing, their "cloak." Less substantial garments could be held as collateral. But a person's cloak was considered to be in a category by itself. A cloak offered warmth and protection. It provided modesty, shielding nakedness. A cloak doubled as clothing and shelter, functioning as haberdashery by day and as a bedroll by night. 

You could take a lot in payment for debts, but you could not take the cloak off someone's back.

But a cloak could always be OFFERED. Sir Walter Raleigh legendarily swept his cloak off his shoulders and flung it over a mud puddle so his Queen's foot would not be dampened. In today's gospel text cloaks were offered for theological, not meterological reasons.

As Jesus prepared to enter into Jerusalem proper, he intentionally "changes things up." The Galilean ministry is at an end. The time for keeping a low profile is over. It is a new messianic moment. Jesus had announced to his disciples the fate that awaited "the Son of Man" once he entered into the city of Jerusalem. As Jesus crossed into Jerusalem the Calvary cross already stood before him. He chooses to embody the image of the humble king, the meek Messiah, riding on a small and simple donkey. Jesus moves into Jerusalem with obedience and humility. Symbolically his back is already bared, readied for the cruelties and sacrifices that await him...
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4. There Is Still Hope

The reality is that, if we figure to survive in this world, we had better have hope. The ancients knew that. Do you remember Pandora? Mythology has her as a lady endowed with every charm...the gift of all the gods. She was sent to earth with a little box which she had been forbidden to open, but curiosity finally got the better of her...she lifted the lid and out from that box escaped every conceivable kind of terror. Pandora made haste to close the box up again, but it was too late. There was only one thing left...HOPE. That was the ancients' way of saying how important hope is. Even when all else is lost, there is still hope.
This was what had sustained the Israelite faithful from generation to generation. This was what energized the crowd along Jesus' parade route that day.

David E. Leininger, Sunday's Coming!
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 5. Palm Sunday - Who Is That?

Picture Fifth Avenue in Manhattan--the stretch of road where the Macy's parade is held each Thanksgiving Day. Imagine that one spring day a kind of makeshift parade is being staged along upper Fifth Avenue near Central Park. But this is not the Macy's parade, not by a long shot. This is a relatively small affair: no floats, no tickertape, no giant balloon figures floating down the street. It's just a crowd of people waving some tree branches and throwing their coats into the road. At the center of it all is a modest, average looking fellow astride a donkey's colt which actually is too small for him to ride with any kind of dignity.

But the members of the parade entourage are nothing if not jubilantly excited. Especially the kids are making a lot of noise, singing and shouting. The enthusiasm of this little crowd is enough eventually to attract some attention. The people standing on the plushly carpeted steps leading into the Plaza complex swivel their heads. The horses hooked up to Central Park carriages turn a lazy eye toward the parade even as the people in the carriages peer out past the canopy to see what the commotion is all about. Shoppers coming out of Saks Fifth Avenue and the Time Warner Center also start to glance around to discover the source of all the hubbub. And inevitably people begin to ask, "Who is that?" In reply the branch-waving, coat-tossing folks excitedly answer, "Who is this, you ask! Why, it's Joshua Jones, a preacher from North Platte in Nebraska!"

"Oh. So it's not Donald Trump? Not Tom Cruise or Katie Couric, not Bill Clinton? Joshua Jones from Nebraska? Oh. That's nice." But then eyes roll, eyebrows rise, and smirks are repressed as the big city folks go back to their big city business.

Granted that Jerusalem circa 30 A.D. was not New York City. Granted that maybe Jesus' name on that Sunday long ago was a little bit better known than the Joshua Jones in my analogy. Granted, and yet . . . there is something about Matthew 21 which bears resemblance to this allegorical story. "Who is that?" the Jerusalemites ask in verse 10. In verse 11 comes the reply: "Jesus, the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee."

Scott Hoezee, Comments and Observations
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6. Save Us

When we wave our palms and boldly cry out, "Hosanna," do we dare imagine what we really want God to save us from? Save me from anger. Save me from cancer. Save me from depression. Save me from debt. Save me from the strife in my family. Save me from boredom. Save me from getting sent back to Iraq. Save me from the endless cycle of violence. Save me from humiliation. Save me from staring at the ceiling at three a.m. wondering why I exist. Save me from bitterness. Save me from arrogance. Save me from loneliness. Save me, God, save me from my fears.

In viewing Palm Sunday from that angle, we can begin to see the potential for some real depth in this celebration, for embedded in our quaint pageantry is an appeal to God that originates in the most vulnerable places inside of us; and it bubbles, almost beyond our control, to the surface. "Hosanna." "Save us." Please God take the broken places that will tear us apart and make them whole. We beseech you, God, jump into the water and drag our almost-drowned selves to shore. "Save us." "Hosanna."

Scott Black Johnston, Save Us
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 7. Power through Love

Back in our early seminary years Janice and I visited one of her aunts and uncles in Pennsylvania. The uncle had been a car dealer much of his life, and had always wanted a Lincoln Continental, the height of luxury in a car thirty years ago. We were going out to dinner together, and as we walked to the garage he somewhat sheepishly told us about his recent purchase. And then, rather apologetically he asked, "Did you ever want something so much, and then when you got it, wondered why in the world it had been so important to you?" 

Might that not be akin to the reaction of many in the Palm Sunday crowd? They recognized something special, something unique, about Jesus, but Jesus does not fit their preconceived notions of how the Messiah ought to act. They do not know what to make of one who, in spite of a commanding presence, talks not of power through force, but the power that comes through emptying oneself, taking the form of a servant, dying to self in order to find genuine life. The crowd does not know what to make of one who embraces a different kind of peace - the peace that comes from recognition that love, and love alone, can meet and master greed and lust and hatred. The crowd little knows what to make of one who challenges us to embrace a love so potent that, in place of vengeance, we can turn the other cheek and go the extra mile in relationships. Jesus speaks of a love so powerful that it can lead us to face the full fury of hatred and enmity with the prayer, "God, forgive them, for they do not understand what they are doing." It is a love so transforming that it empowers us to confront life - and death - with a spirit of trust: "Gracious God, into your hands I commend my spirit."

Joel D. Kline, What Did We See in Jesus?
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8. Creating Turmoil

In his book, The Freedom Revolution and the Churches, Robert Spike recalls an incident from the early years of the turbulent civil rights movement. Flying out of Jackson, Mississippi, Spike overhears the conversation of a Catholic sister, sitting across the aisle from him, with her seat companion. The sister is lamenting all the unrest in Mississippi, and she complains about the "outside agitators," the students and church leaders who have come to her state in support of civil rights, certain that their presence is provoking violence on the part of white racists. "I do not question their dedication, nor even the rightness of their position," said the sister. "But surely it is a bad thing to create turmoil by stirring up people who feel differently." As the sister talks, all the while she is nervously fingering a cross hanging around her neck.

There's a tragic irony in the sister's words and actions, not unlike that of the first Holy Week. For the one whose cross the sister holds most dear, Jesus, would never have taken the risk of going to Jerusalem and proclaiming a new way of living, would never have confronted comfortable patterns and ultimately endured the cross, had he followed the sister's philosophy.

Joel D. Kline, What Did We See in Jesus?
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9. The Tomb Is Easier than the Cross

In just a matter of days Holy Week takes us from the mountain of festive palms to the mountain of Golgatha's despair. And that is why we resist it so. I mean, do we really need the emotional rollercoaster of Holy Week? What's so wrong with just jumping from one parade to the next and skipping all the sacrifice and death stuff? What's wrong with simply moving on to the joy of Easter, with its white bonnets, Easter eggs, family, friends, big ham dinner, and of course the empty tomb.

Well, I think we know the answer to that. For starters, an empty tomb, at face value, is a lot easier to deal with than a dying, bleeding Savior on a cross. Add to that all the pain and suffering that comes with Holy Week, is it any wonder that the human tendency is to try and ignore the events of the week and simply move on to the Easter celebration? But as much as we'd like to skip Holy Week we know that the only way to Easter is through the cross. We know where the parade of Palm Sunday leads and we also know that we're part of that parade. That is to say, we know this intellectually. Our hearts are another story. Our hearts may be more in sync with the disciples and the fear and disbelief that led them to run away. It would seem that 2000 years later Jesus' disciples are still running away.

Jeffrey K. London, And When You Think It's All Over
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10. Walking the Walk

Christ's commitment reminds me of a Japanese social worker who lived before and during the Second World War named Toyohiko Kagawa. Kagawa was a devout Christian whose faith caused him to have an extraordinary impact on the working conditions of ordinary citizens in Japan. He was so well thought of in that land that he came on a mission to the U.S. before the beginning of the Second World War to seek to prevent that terrible conflict breaking out. Even though he failed in this effort, he gained international renown for his Christian witness and selfless work.

Years later Kagawa was on a lecture tour to the United States. Two college students were walking across their campus after hearing him speak. One of them confessed that he was disappointed in Kagawa's simple message.

After some reflection, the other student replied: "I suppose it really doesn't matter very much what a man says when he has lived as Kagawa has lived."

That is true. In today's vernacular, it is more important that Kagawa walked the walk and not just talked the talk. A consecrated life is far more eloquent and convincing than any well thought out argument. The world will not accept the way of Christ because we can out talk our spiritual opponents, but only because we can out live them. Such a demonstration of the superior quality of our faith will verify our witness more readily than any other effort in which we can engage. Kagawa did that superbly. His life, however, was simply a reflection of the life of his Master.

Jesus walked the walk more perfectly than anyone who has ever lived. He lived out the ethic which he taught. He was totally committed to doing his Father's will. He was a man of courage. He was a man of commitment.

King Duncan

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11. What Is Good For Us Is Hidden

Martin Luther often spoke of this aspect of the theology of the cross, concerning how God works in a hidden way through contrasts. In a series of lectures that Luther gave in 1515 and 1516 on the Book of Romans, he wrote: "For what is good for us is hidden, and that so deeply that it is hidden under its opposite. Thus our life is hidden under death, love for ourselves under hate for ourselves ... salvation under damnation, heaven under hell ... And universally our every assertion of anything good is hidden under the denial of it, so that faith may have its place in God, who is a negative essence and goodness and wisdom and righteousness, who cannot be touched except by the negation of all our affirmations."

Martin Luther had one more observation about why God operates this way - under contrasts and opposites. In another of his sermons, he put it this way: "He thrusts us into death and permits the devil to pounce on us. But it is not his purpose to devour us; he wants to test us, to purify us, and to manifest himself ever more to us, that we may recognize his love. Such trials and strife are to let us experience something that preaching alone is not able to do, namely, how powerful Christ is and how sincerely the Father loves us. So our trust in God and our knowledge of God will increase more and more, together with our praise and thanks for his mercy and blessing.

Otherwise we would bumble along with our early, incipient faith. We would become indolent, unfruitful and inexperienced Christians, and would soon grow rusty."

Mark Ellingsen
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12. Passion Sunday: Surprising and Inevitable

At a pre-concert lecture, the conductor of a symphony orchestra was telling the audience about the major work that the orchestra would be performing at that evening's concert. The conductor told the people that if they listened carefully to the music, they would discover that it was both surprising and inevitable. On the one hand, the musical score would take a fair number of rather jarring and unexpected twists. There would be points in the concert when the blare of the trumpet or the sudden rolling of the timpani would seem to come from out of nowhere in a surprising fashion. On the other hand, however, the conductor noted that in the long run, these surprises would themselves become part of a larger coherence. Once listeners heard the entire piece from start to finish, they would find in the music an air of inevitability--how could it ever have been written any differently?

Surprising and inevitable...
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13. Two Teenagers:

Background:

This poor man lucked out with neither of his sons. He loved them both and they both were goofs. The first was too wild, the second was too rigid and nasty. Neither one appreciated their father’s love. Both tried to exploit him. What’s more he knew they were exploiting him. 

 This is not a story of a prodigal son, but of an indulgent father, indeed of a hyper-indulgent father. Note that he runs to meet the first son and cuts off his phony speech. Note too that he is incredibly patient with the mean-spirited and ungrateful second son. This story is not supposed to provide a model for family life. Rather it tells us that God loves us like the indulgent father, so much that my human standards, he’s quite over the top. 

Story:
Once there were two teenagers whose parents went away for the weekend. As some teenagers do, they decided they would have a party. You know the rest. A couple hundred people showed up. They drank all the family liquor, trashed the house, tore up the garden, wrecked the family cars, burned down the garage, smashed the windows in the neighboring homes, rioted when the police came, and even threw beer cans on the rectory lawn (Really!). 

 When the parents came home to find the National Guard patrolling their streets, they said to their children, “You shouldn’t have done that.” Why not, said the kids. You went away it’s your fault, not ours. You should have never trusted us. 

 But the parents love their children so much that they weren’t angry at them.

 That’s the way God love us.
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14. A BOY WAITS FOR THE BUS

There's an old story of the boy who stood on a sidewalk, waiting on a bus. A man walking by spotted the boy, and gave him some gentle instruction. "Son," he said, "if you're waiting on the bus, you need to move to the street corner. That's where the bus stops for passengers."

"It's OK," said the boy. "I'll just wait right here, and the bus will stop for me."

The man repeated his argument, but the boy never moved. Just then, the bus appeared. Amazingly, the bus pulled over to where the boy stood, and the child hopped on. The man on the sidewalk stood speechless. The boy turned around in the doorway and said, "Mister, I knew the bus would stop here, because the bus driver is my dad!"

When you've got a family relationship with the bus driver, you don't need a bus stop. If your mother is a US Senator, you won't need an appointment to slip into her office. If you've given your heart to the King of Kings, you're in a royal family of unspeakable proportions.
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15. ADD:

Young Harold had a really bad case of Attention Deficit Disorder. On Palm Sunday, Harold’s Sunday School teacher sent empty plastic eggs home with each of her students. Mrs. Wilson told them to bring something back in the eggs next Sunday to represent Easter. She really didn’t expect Harold to bring anything, because he never listened in class. The next Sunday her children brought their eggs back. Susan had a pretty spring flower inside her egg. Joey had a little cross in his egg. Jackie had put a plastic butterfly in her egg. But, just as Mrs. Wilson suspected, there was nothing in Harold’s egg. She was surprised that he even remembered to bring it back! She had praised each of the other children for what they brought, but she didn’t say anything about Harold’s empty egg. Harold looked at her with anticipation and said, "Mrs. Wilson, you didn’t say anything about my egg!" Mrs. Wilson said, "But, Harold, you don’t have any reminder of Easter in your egg." Harold replied, "Uh-huh! It’s empty just like Jesus’ tomb!"
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15. John Singer Sargent at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts

I attended a wonderful exhibition of the works of John Singer Sargent at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. It went on for rooms and rooms. There seemed to be hundreds of works. The artist must never have rested. There was as best as I can recall only one religious work. And that was a riveting crucifixion scene.
Studying Sargent's brass relief, one could better understand why Cicero wrote that crucifixion was the "most heartless and most harrowing" manner of execution.

This solitary work by the master artist Sargent was a fulfillment of the line of a priest who said so prophetically, "The world can never get away from that strange Man on the cross."

The crucifixion was of a type that I had never seen before. It had been made for the Boston Public Library about 1899.  Beneath each of the outstretched arms of the Christ, there stood a figure. One was clearly the young disciple John. The other was a woman, no doubt His mother.

Each one held a chalice. They were catching His precious blood as it flowed from His hands wounded by the nails. They obviously wished to collect each and every drop of it.

The right foot of the Saviour was standing on a serpent. He was meant by Sargent to be a symbol for Satan. By His death Jesus the Christ had bested him.

And at the very base of the representation was a pelican. She was feeding her young with her own flesh and blood. It was a reference to His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. I recall wondering whether the artist knew of the line: "All the love of God crammed into a tiny piece of Bread."

Sargent had himself squeezed a great deal of theology into one brass relief.     For me, John Singer Sargent had brought some fresh insights into the horrible and painful death of the Messiah. It was also the case for other spectators. Many stood around his crucifixion work studying every detail. No one spoke. They were transfixed. They better understood I think the awesome price the redemption had cost the Christ.
Yet, I do think Mr Sargent would have been surprised to learn that the cross did not appear as a Christian symbol till about the fifth century. Many archaeological digs have discovered early Christian symbols other than the cross. One thinks immediately of the ever-popular fish whose Greek letters stand for "Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour." There was the anchor which symbolized hope for the early Christians. And there were various types of Christograms. These were the first letters of Jesus Christ in Greek placed one on top of the other. But there were no crosses to be found among these early century finds.

Why? No less an authority than Dominican Father Jerome Murphy O'Connor, a professor at the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, answers the question for Catholic News Services. "The cross at the time," he says, "was being used for crucifixion and torture. To wear it around one's neck would be like wearing a miniature electric chair around your neck today. The idea was repulsive."  Furthermore, many Christians felt it would be dreadful to utilize a symbol of sheer disgrace for their flourishing creed.  Other scholars confirm Fr Murphy O'Connor's view.   Some observers also go on to declare that if the Christians were to wear a cross, they would be inviting serious troubles from the police. They would be broadcasting the fact that they were indeed the followers of the Christ - Him who had been crucified outside Jerusalem by the Romans. So wisely they chose the more subtle symbols of the fish, the anchor, and the Christograms. These were codes that those who did not follow Jesus Christ would not fathom. These early centuries were of course the period in which the Christians underwent serious persecutions for their faith.
In the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. Happily he brought an abrupt halt to the centuries-old barbarous crucifixion. Then and only then did Christians accept the cross as their universal symbol. But intriguingly Fr Murphy O'Connor asserts it took another two centuries before the Christ figure was placed on that cross. The why of it remains a mystery.
As we begin this solemn week, we should carry with us this refrain: no one is too bad to be forgiven.
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Stories from Father Tony Kadavil:

1) The six-year-old came home from Palm Sunday services proudly carrying his palm. Mom and Dad quizzed him on his Sunday school lesson for the day. He responded enthusiastically, "Jesus came to Jerusalem on a donkey. And the happy people waved their palm branches and sang, “O Susanna..."

2) "Why do you have that palm branch, dad?"  
Little Johnny was sick on Palm Sunday and stayed home from church with his mother.  His father returned from church holding a palm branch.  The little boy was curious and asked why. His father explained, "You see, when Jesus came into town, everyone waved palm branches to honor him; so we got palm branches today."  "Aw, shucks,” grumbled Little Johnny.  "The one Sunday I can't go to church, and Jesus shows up!"

3) The angry Jesus:
Winston Churchill once listened to a hot-tempered raving, ranting tirade directed at him by an opponent whose mouth worked faster than his mind. At the end of it, Churchill said, in his own Churchillian way, "Our honorable colleague should, by now, have trained himself not to generate more indignation than he has the capacity to hold." A lot of people are like that.

4. “Either give up Christ or give up your jobs.”
Constantine the Great was the first Christian Roman emperor. His father Constantius I who succeeded Diocletian as emperor in 305 A.D. was a pagan with a soft heart for Christians. When he ascended the throne, he discovered that many Christians held important jobs in the government and in the court.  So he issued an executive order to all those Christians: “Either give up Christ or give up your jobs.” The great majority of Christians gave up their jobs rather than disowning Christ. Only a few cowards gave up their religion rather than lose their jobs. The emperor was pleased with the majority who showed the courage of their convictions and gave their jobs back to them saying: "If you will not be true to your God you will not be true to me either.” Today we join the Palm Sunday crowd in spirit to declare our loyalty to Christ and fidelity to his teachings by actively participating in the Palm Sunday liturgy. As we carry the palm leaves to our homes, we are declaring our choice to accept Jesus as the king and ruler of our lives and our families. Let us express our gratitude to Jesus for redeeming us by his suffering and death, through active participation in the Holy Week liturgy and reconciliation with God and His Church, repenting of our sins and receiving God's pardon and forgiveness from Jesus through his Church.   

5,  Passion Sunday and the shadow of the cross:
The bishop of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris during the early part of the last century was a great evangelizer who tried to reach out to unbelievers, scoffers, and cynics.  He liked to tell the story of a young man who would stand outside the cathedral and shout derogatory slogans at the people entering to worship.  He would call them fools and other insulting names.  The people tried to ignore him but it was difficult. One day the parish priest went outside to confront the young man, much to the distress of the parishioners.  The young man ranted and raved against everything the priest told him.  Finally, the priest addressed the young scoffer, saying, “Look, let’s get this over with once and for all.  I’m going to dare you to do something and I bet you can’t do it.”  And of course the young man shot back, “I can do anything you propose, you white-robed wimp!” “Fine,” said the priest.  “All I ask you to do is to come into the sanctuary with me.  I want you to stare at the figure of Christ on His cross, and I want you to scream at the very top of your lungs, as loudly as you can. ‘Christ died on the cross for me, and I don’t care one bit.” So the young man went into the sanctuary, and looking at the figure, screamed as loudly as he could, “Christ died on the cross for me, and I don’t care one bit.”  The priest said, “Very good.  Now do it again.”  And again the young man screamed, with a little more hesitancy, “Christ died on the cross for me, and I don’t care one bit.”  “You’re almost done now,” said the priest.  “One more time.” The young man raised his fist, kept looking at the crucifix, but the words wouldn’t come.  He just could not look at the face of Christ and say those words any more. The real punch line came when, after he told the story, the bishop said, “I was that young man.  That young man, that defiant young man was I.  I thought I didn’t need God but found out that I did.”