"He emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human weakness."
(Phil 2: 6-11)
Our Lent, as it always does, begins with palms and ends with palms. So, the palms we hold today are not just “leaves” from bushes grown for this purpose. Five weeks ago, we were marked with ashes on our foreheads and those ashes came from the burned palm leaves as the ones we received today. And so this week we mark the end of Lent and the beginning of a week made holy by the events that we will remember.
But, the palms, or likely also olive branches with silvery-green leaves, were waived by the adoring crowds as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey not long after he had raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. It’s not a scene of sadness or betrayal, which will come in a few days, but rather a scene of praise; a royal moment in which the frenzied population shouted and acclaimed Jesus as their King! With all this acclamation how could anything be better or go wrong? But, we know that not all were wild with admiration. In fact, their wish was anything but supportive; it was ominous and sinister.
So, our liturgy this week takes us through praise, betrayal, rejection, abandonment, sacrifice, service, a life poured out in pain and suffering, and final glory and miracle. On Wednesday of this week we hear of Judas, http://usccb.org/bible/readings/032316.cfm a trusted Apostle, who turned dark and whose spirit became corrupted with greed.
He turns Jesus in to the authorities who are seeking to know where he hides out with his trusted circle. “In the olive garden below Jerusalem - in that valley at night,” states Judas. Did he know what the real motive for Jesus’ capture would be? It is hard to imagine that Judas would have secretly plotted for Jesus’ demise and death after following him for such a long time. Judas witnessed his miracles; heard his teaching; he saw the rapt admiration of the crowds. How could he have gone so far to have conspired with his captors for Jesus destruction?
It is more likely a plot gone badly. Judas was betrayed as well. Maybe his misguided intention was to allow Jesus the opportunity to be questioned by the Jewish authorities, all the while hoping that Jesus would use his miraculous power to align in overturning the Roman forces of occupation? Yet, he may have not known that the Jewish authorities was also using him for their own dark intentions.
Nonetheless, it was a betrayal indeed. Judas despaired, which in the least shows his remorse but inability to seek forgiveness from the one who surely would have offered it to him.
Even sadder, we know of Jesus’ “rock” – Peter who perhaps even more than Judas betrayed our Lord outright. Not in a secret plot but boldly, out loud, three times that he even knew Jesus at all! At least Judas did not deny that he knew Jesus quite well. Peter, in cowardly weakness, disavowed himself and turned so regrettably to an action that brought him to weep and deeply regret but thankfully, not to despair. And Jesus forgave him along the Sea of Galilee after he appeared in risen form – “Peter, do you love me?” Three times to redeem Peter and prepare him for the mission ahead, the risen Lord commanded Peter: “Feed my sheep”
Thursday, called Holy, we see the profound humility of God we hear of on Palm Sunday in our Second reading from Philippians 2: 6-11: “He humbled himself, taking on the form of a slave . . .” And so Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, among whom we could assume Judas was included. God washed their feet as an unforgettable example of love poured out for others. Then he further gave him his body and blood in the Eucharist and forever commissioned them to “Do this in memory of me.”
We move then to the central image of the Christian faith, the cross, known in ancient times as the most tortuous and barbaric death reserved for the most hardened criminals. Why did Jesus die in spite of his innocence? Scholars tell us it was the charge of blasphemy brought against him; that he claimed to be equal to God, and implied that indeed he is God among us. The greatest violation of the First Commandment was to claim to be God or equal to him; a charge deserving of death. And so, this death was for that eternal truth and so the Cross is forever a sign of hope and salvation for humanity.
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Our dramatic week reaches its ultimate peak next Saturday at the Evening Vigil – the central celebration of the entire Liturgical Year is that sacred night at which new members are washed in baptism and anointed with the Chrism in Confirmation, then feed on Christ himself in the Holy Eucharist. We hear the stories of salvation from the Old Testament and the unexpected confusion turned to joy from the empty tomb of Jesus to his appearance to Mary Magdalen and all Easter season to the awestruck Apostles.
It is unlike any other time of year. If you can, plan to attend all the Holy Week Services. Yes, you will spend more time in Church this week and yes the services will be longer than normal. Remember no one ever died of “terminal Church.” Your family or relatives or neighbors might brand you as somehow overly religious if you do so – or even if you come to Good Friday in addition to Easter Vigil or Sunday. But, it is an opportunity to evangelize and to show the depth to which God gave his life on the Cross for you and for them. Invite them to come with you.
So, let’s give thanks and pray for the grace to come to resurrection – a Sunday of miracle and renewed faith along with our newest members.
Peace to all. More will come . . .