Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday marks the start of Holy Week when we reverently remember the last days of the Lord. Palm Sunday recounts the triumphant entry of Jesus to Jerusalem, as he rides on a colt (traditional royal procession) and is welcomed by the crowd with palms, branches and shouts of hosannas. Holy Week closes with an even more glorious event - the Lord’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. In the days between, Jesus goes through his passion and death on the cross.
The enthusiastic reception of Jesus by the people on Palm Sunday manifests their high expectation of him as the long-awaited messiah who would free them from Roman subjection and restore the kingdom of Israel. Instead, Jesus enters Jerusalem with a higher purpose of accomplishing the Father’s will to save humankind from the bondage of sin and death and to establish the kingdom of God. To fulfill his mission, Jesus has to pass by way of Calvary and the cross.
Today’s readings are lengthy and rich with substance for reflection. A long homily would be anti-climactic, if not counter-productive. Let me then just suggest a simple activity to help make our Holy Week truly holy and spiritually fruitful.
Let us accompany Jesus in his last days by entering into the Passion, as narrated by Mark, and find our role within the story. Several characters participate in Jesus’ passion and death. Many of them are hostile and vicious. There are the religious leaders who are intent on putting Jesus to death; the Romans who are ruthless in humiliating and torturing him; the agitated crowd who days before were shouting hosannas now ask for his crucifixion... His own disciples turn against him: Judas betrays him, Peter denies him and the rest abandon him.
But there are also a few who faithfully stand by him in his darkest hour. There is an anonymous woman who lovingly and extravagantly anoints Jesus’ head in anticipation of his burial. There is the Roman centurion who confesses that Jesus is truly the Son of God. There is the courageous Joseph of Arimathea who asks Pilate for Jesus’ body, and there is the group of women who stand from a distance, ready to prepare his body for burial.
Where am I in the story? Which character can I identify myself with? Chances are we may find ourselves in more than one character, coming from both the cruel and the compassionate kind. I can be the high priest who yearns for Jesus’ downfall when I am consumed by envy at the success of a colleague. At the same time, I can also be Simon of Cyrene or one of the attendant women when I am willing to extend my help to someone in need.
Let us spend this week walking with Jesus towards Calvary all the way to his tomb. In the end, we will realize that it is actually Jesus who walks with us at every step of our journey, lifting us when we fall, healing our hostile heart, sustaining us on the cross and leading us to a new life of grace and holiness.