FROM TRIUMPH TO TRAGEDY IN TEN MINUTES – PALM SUNDAY
Homily for Palm Sunday Mass
“He was like us in all things save sin.” This brief description of Jesus found in St. Paul and in the writings of the early Church is nowhere more aptly applied than in today’s Palm Sunday liturgy. For Jesus, not unlike for ourselves, life was a roller coaster running between triumph and tragedy, joy and sorrow, exhilaration and pain. Our Liturgy of the Word today began even before we entered the Church, at the blessing of the palms. The deacon read the Gospel account of the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He hear the “hosannas”, we can almost sense the crowd pressing in on the now well-known teacher from Galilee, full of adulation, desirous of touching him or being touched by him. It was a moment of seeming triumph, a penultimate moment of huge success or, in other words, a moment of triumph.
Within minutes, however, we hear the passion account of St. Luke. The cheering crowds have been replaced by jeering crowds. The cloaks spread on the road before him now wrap him as a mockery. Chants of “hosanna” are replaced by chants of “crucify him.” His closest friends who prepared the way for his Palm Sunday moment of triumph are now nowhere to found during his moment of tragedy. One has betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver coin and another has denied him to save his own skin. Beaten, scourged, humiliated, he stands before Jerusalem not as Christ the King but rather as the dangerous “carpenter’s son from Nazareth who needs not to be welcome but to be eliminated.
Cannot life be like that for us at times, albeit without the high drama? Do we not move through life experiencing and balancing moments of joy and happiness with moments of sorrow and uncertainty? Can it not be said that we have had our share of Palm Sundays and Good Fridays? Jesus experienced in his life all the highs and lows that are ours in this life. The question for ourselves, however, is how do we cope with, how do we deal with, how do we make use of the inevitable moments of pain that blot out the bright light of our joys?
We would do well, today and throughout this week, to look to Jesus for a “hint of an explanation” in the words of the British author, Graham Greene. Today it is to be found in the example of the Lord’s life. He knew he was never alone. Abandoned, denied, sold out, yes, but that was all by weak humanity. Jesus knew that his Father, our Father, was always with him and would in the end turn this passing theatre of tragedy into an eternity of triumph. That insight, that belief, is called faith. And when he felt that by sacrificing at least his life, our own might someday be spared as well, that belief is called hope. And when he laid down his life for his friends (Peter, Paul, Andrew, James, John, Mary Magdalene, Mary, his own mother, Martha and Mary and for ourselves), that belief is called love. What he did by enduring the worst moment of tragic pain and suffering was to make us sharers in his triumph. But do we truly believe this or do we always want more from God? Can we take what has been promised or do we wish more of our Lord?
On Palm Sunday he entered Jerusalem knowing full well that the human folly of the entry would soon give way to the realities of life – jealousy, anger, resentments. Where do we fit in this collage of human conditions? Are we lining the street yelling “Hosanna” today only to be found in the modern courtyards of Pilate yelling, “crucify him” tomorrow? Are we fair weather friends of God like Peter or are we in it for the long haul with God like Mary Magdalene? In our lives of faith do we wallow in triumph, ascribing everything to our own initiative, or to ourselves or do we wallow in tragedy, blaming it all on God or others?
During this Holy Week and in this Cathedral I will attempt to reflect on life’s triumphs and tragedies based on the life and teaching of Jesus in his final hours as a “man like us in all things save sin.” I invite you to walk with me through his week, using the most beautiful liturgies of our Church to gain perhaps a new perspective in what it all meant and what it all means. Come to the Upper Room Thursday night for the institution of the Eucharist, to Golgotha on Friday for the best lesson of how only God can make something good come from something awful and to the tomb at the Easter Vigil to celebrate the triumph of good over evil, life over death. Experience perhaps in a new and different manner the tragedies and triumphs of Holy Week.