PALM SUNDAY OF THE PASSION OF THE LORD, 2020
PASSION SUNDAY AND THE PARADOX OF OUR (COVID-19) TIME
The paradox of Palm Sunday is shown at the beginning of the Mass when the crowd who gathered raised their voices and shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” Jesus rides on a colt into Jerusalem. The people spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road for Christ’s triumphal entry. But shortly after that, we see in the passion narrative where the glorious chant of hosanna shifts to an angry “Crucify him.” They all believe that Jesus deserves to die. That’s exactly what the Holy Week reminds us, the mystery of our faith, the death and resurrection of Christ. Christ rides into Jerusalem for that purpose, for the real crowning- his passion, crucifixion, and death. That’s what the Holy Week celebrates.
There are several transitions in the readings and in the passion narrative- from hosanna to crucify him; from spreading of their cloaks and palms to jeering at Jesus; from close following to distancing and desertion. Jesus eventually ends up alone on the Cross where he exercises his kingship. As Saint Paul says, “Because of this, God has greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The world needs to acknowledge the kingship of Christ on the Cross. That’s one great message of Holy Week.
Peter, who vowed to stay with Jesus unto death denied Jesus three times within hours. Judas Iscariot, an apostle, provided the platform for the arrest of Jesus. Pontius Pilate, who had power as governor at the time, succumbed to political pressure, released the notorious Barabbas in place of an innocent Jesus. The soldiers were ruthless to him, stripped his clothes, weaved a crown of thorns, mocked him, spat on his face, and struck him like a criminal. The chief priests and the scribes preferred his innocent blood to be on their heads and those of their children rather than release him. Even the criminal abused Jesus on the Cross.
Only the weak identified with him. Simon of Cyrene, the women of Jerusalem, the thief on his right, and Joseph, the rich man from Arimathea who offered the tomb at his death. In the eyes of the world, Jesus would always manifest himself through the weak.
The question could be for us, where do we fit in, in this drama of the passion of Jesus? Are we like the crowds who cheer Jesus one moment and deny him the next moment? Are we like Peter relying on ourselves only to be exposed to our human weakness a little after? Are we like Judas taken over by material things and monetary pleasures? Are we like Pontius Pilate blinded by fame and power? Are we like the chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees filled with jealousy and hatred?
This year’s Holy Week celebrated in what seems like a different socio-economic, political, and religious atmosphere gives us an opportunity to contemplate the salvation brought to us in Christ Jesus. We have to appreciate the Light of Christ more at this time that we seem to be groping in darkness. We should be hungrier for Jesus now that we are unable to reach out to get into the Churches to worship like before. The message from Jesus’ crucifixion is clear, no one can battle with the Lord. The victory of the Cross is a victory of light over darkness, the victory of truth over falsehood, humility over pride, goodness over evil, innocence over sin and iniquity. It is our victory because it brings us salvation. The centurion and the men keeping guard finally recognized this and exclaimed, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” Our time calls for a recognition of Jesus as the Son of God, the redeemer, the mighty one in battle.
Imagine the paradox of this period, that the coronavirus pandemic has brought the whole world to a standstill. Political powers are in great panic. Economic powers are shivering. Medical powers are uncertain. The wisdom of science is frightened. Celebrities are quiet. The god of sports is silent. Stadiums are shut down. Hotels are closed. Las Vegas is isolated. Disney World is paralyzed. Airports and flights across different parts of the world are rarely functional. The only international trade available now is the trade for survival against coronavirus. No one is talking about money anymore. Stock exchange, we are told had lost over 16 trillion dollars in the past few weeks. The single problem of today’s world seeking a global solution is the COVID-19 pandemic. Do all these not point us to a rethink? No one talks about wars anymore. No more warships. No more missiles. The Middle East is quiet. Iraq is silent. Iran is mute. Syria is calm. Russia is peaceful. Terrorist groups and militants all over the world are all quiet. No one can battle with the Lord.
Imagine spending this holy week in isolation, in quarantine. Imagine the painful feelings of not being in church to celebrate the Easter duty. Imagine the strange thought of not receiving the Eucharist. Can this be our Gethsemane experience with Jesus? Could Jesus be telling us like Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, “Sit here while I go over there and pray?” Jesus’ soul is sorrowful for our sins and those of the world, bruised by our wickedness, greed, malice, and lack of respect for human life. Jesus says, “pray and watch with me so as not to undergo the test.” Are you going to fall asleep or are you staying awake during this period? Yes, you might be at home but not away from Jesus. Stay awake during this Holy Week, during this dark moment of our history and cry out with Jesus, “Eli Eli, lema sabachthani” (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?). Why have you forsaken us O God? That’s the voice of prayer, not of power. It is the voice of hope, the voice that looks forward to the resurrection and the dawn of a glorious light at Easter. It’s time for the world to say, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”