Palm Sunday

Is. 50:4-9a • Ps. 31:9-16 • Phil. 2:5-11
Mark 14:1-15:47 or Mark 15:1-39 (40-47)

The liturgical resources and ap­pointed readings are extraordinarily rich. Here I turn only to St. Mark. This particular day is a sad witness to the weakness of confessed fidelity. “Until we are parted by death,” who really knows? The test determines strength or weakness. And since this too frail flesh is our common story, we should all be grateful that God is faithful though we are not. God is mercy though we, at times, cannot muster a word of kindness. God is love though “the high priests and scribes conspire to take by treachery and put him to death” (Mark 14:1). Although the context of this writing leaves no question about who is betrayed and executed, a sustained meditation may help pull this icon from the page.

Because Jesus is the Son of Man, and holds within the unity of his person our nature, his death is a sign of every ruthless betrayal, every occasion of senseless hate and murder. His death is, in the deepest sense, a crime against humanity. It speaks mercy to every victim, impugns every perpetrator. More deeply still there is the story of a life hidden in God, utterly united to the heart of the Father. Every foul word, every bitter blow, each crushing spike is against the Lord of Life. Who is Jesus?

A catechetical answer, but hardly tearless and dry: The Son of the Living God, the Splendor of the Father, the Glory of Eternal Light, the King of Glory, the Sun of Righteousness, the Son of Mary, Loving, Wonderful, Mighty God, Father of a Future Age, Messenger of Great Counsel, All Powerful, All Patient, Entirely Obedient, Mild, Humble, God of Peace, Author of Life, Example of Virtue, Lover of Souls, Our God, Our Refuge, Consolation of the Poor, a Faithful Treasure, Good Shepherd, True Light, Eternal Wisdom, Infinite Goodness, The Way and Our Life, the Joy of Angels, the Teacher of the Apostles and Evangelists, the Strength of Martyrs, the Light of Confessors, the Crown of Saints — an open side from which flows thousands and thousands of names as beautiful as the blood and water through which he constitutes a Church. We name him in praise, recalling what he does for the salvation of the world. Remembering our complicity in his sorrow, we plead for a river of mercy.

St. Mark starts his story of Jesus’ betrayal with the plotting of the high priests and scribes. He moves then to Judas, who is found dipping bread in a bowl of wine at precisely the moment Jesus does the same. Their hands touch, perhaps. Dipping bread in a common cup is itself a sign of intimacy intensifying both love and betrayal. If only Judas had not lived for this day — disturbing words to be sure. As the crowd approaches at the agreed signal carrying clubs and swords, the disciples flee. Their betrayal is interpreted in the strange line about a young man who, when apprehended, throws aside his garment and flees naked, a condition even worse than our primordial parents who wore fig leaves to cover their shame.

Other currents pull the story toward salvation. A woman, ever to be remembered, breaks an alabaster flask and anoints the body of Jesus for burial: devotion rather than denial. Jesus gives sacred bread and shares his willing wine. The temple curtain tears, telling that the holy presence hangs from the cross. Women look and love and weep. Joseph of Arimathea provides for his burial. The womb of the earth awaits the birth of deathless life. Oh Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Look It Up
Read Mark 14 and 15 in a single sitting, aloud.

Think About It
Holy Communion is a sting of love, the moment when a sacred hand brushes against our own.