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Friday, 3 April 2020

Palm Sunday Year A 2020

 Sermon 172: Palm Sunday (Year A)

(Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14 – 27:66


In Matthew's account of the Passion of Our Lord we heard the High Priest say to Jesus:

I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.  

The supreme representative of Judaism in that way expressed both his animosity towards Jesus and his contempt for Him, using the very same words with which Peter had earlier expressed his own deepest faith and heartfelt love for Jesus:

Jesus said to (His disciples), "But who do you say that I am?"  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:16)

Those words, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God", are the embryonic source of all that the Scriptures, the Church's proclamation, and the faith and wisdom of the saints and doctors of succeeding ages, can tell us about Jesus; and they were echoed once again in the simple confession of the pagan Roman soldiers who had witnessed the crucifixion and death of Jesus:

Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!"  (Matthew 27:54)

Let us, therefore, look more carefully into those words of faith, "Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God".

St. Paul leads us along the way:

Although He existed in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus, setting aside the glory that was His as Son of God, lived most of His years in humble obscurity before entering upon His public ministry.  There He quickly encountered such mounting opposition and deepening enmity, that ultimately, He was led to embrace the disgrace, torment and emptiness, of the Cross out of love for His Father and for us.  In the course of His short life He thus experienced all the sufferings foretold by the prophet Isaiah for the One who was to come, the Suffering Servant of the Lord:

I gave My back to those who strike Me, and My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting.  For the Lord GOD helps Me, therefore, I am not disgraced; therefore, I have set My face like flint.  And I know that I will not be ashamed, He who vindicates Me is near.

There is, however, yet more for us to appreciate about Jesus' sacrificial love, more even than what was apparently involved in dying on the Cross; because the Gospel tells us of the last few audible words spoken by Jesus in His agony, words which introduce us into the secret drama of His sublime love and crucial prayer.

The agony was terrible, His strength was well-nigh gone; therefore, the spoken words were few, but the prayer continued to the very end of His life in the depths of His Personal communion with His heavenly Father:


By summoning up His last dregs of energy in order to utter those few audible words He wanted us to know not only the words of His final prayer but also to appreciate aright the attitude of His soul going into death.   Taking upon Himself the ultimate burden of our sins, Jesus willed to experience  what was totally alien and absolutely abhorrent to His personal Self and very being, He chose to embrace for us the ultimate human agony resulting from sin: the human feeling of being abandoned by God; and for that ultimate humiliation of Himself for us men He also prepared His ultimate healing by choosing a prayer taken from Scripture, it was Psalm 22.

After those few audible, opening, words, the psalm, as I said, is continued in Jesus' heart and mind as He was hanging in silence on the Cross before His Father: a heartfelt prayer, recounting and embracing the sufferings He was enduring, then going on to express His prayer for deliverance, before finally exploding into praise of God and prayer for His brethren in the great assembly:

I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise You.   My praise shall be of You in the great assembly. Let the humble eat and be satisfied; let those who seek the LORD praise Him.  May your hearts live forever!  All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before Him.  For the kingdom is the LORD's, and He rules over the nations.  All who sleep in the earth will bow low before Him; all who have gone down into the dust will kneel in homage; and I shall live for Him. A posterity shall serve Him. Future generations will be told about the Lord and proclaim His deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that He has done this.

So, Jesus on the Cross prayed that, beyond His imminent death on that instrument of torture and shame, He might be able to humbly serve His disciples yet further, even to the end of time.  It was not His will to rest totally in that glory which was His with the Father before time began, and which would be His again in His Resurrection and Ascension.  He willed also to continue His self-oblation, self-emptying, and self-giving, in and through His Church: His word in her proclamation; His Blessing in her ministry; His food, indeed His very own Body and Blood, by the hands of her Apostles and priests chosen and ordained to offer His most Personal act of love and self-sacrifice for her nourishment and fulfilment: Jesus to the end of time humbling Himself in her and for  her in order to win and lead His earthly brethren back to the Father of all Glory! 

Dear People of God, all you who are called to be true disciples of Jesus, never forget that even in the utmost depths of apparent abandonment prayer is still possible for you, Jesus says; even at the very threshold of feared retribution, your prayer can still be acceptable to the God Whose love is pledged and unending.

Jesus continued His saving work even on the Cross, even t-h-r-o-u-g-h His agony, even into the peace of His total abandonment to, and complete trust in, His Father; and the letter to the Hebrews tells us that He was heard in this His prayer:

In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence.  Although He was Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered; and having been made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him. (5:7-9)

And so, to this very day, Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God, is present to His Church in His Word and in His Eucharist, be it for honour, or neglect, for love or despising; and He continues to work in us and in our world, by His Spirit, through you and me, and through countless others like us.  And even though our inadequacy, our weakness, and at times our sinfulness, continue to humble Him; nevertheless -- and this is His supreme desire -- His love will never fail to invite, to support, and to inspire us.

Let us therefore pray that we may sincerely and whole heartedly revere Him at Mass, both in His Word and in His Eucharistic Sacrifice and Presence;  and let us beg  that we may thereby be so freed from sin as to allow the Spirit He gives us to work  ever more fully in us and through us, for the greater glory of His and our Father, and for the salvation of all men and women of good will in our suffering world.