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3/25: Passion

Palm Sunday, March 25

Liturgy of the Palms: Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16Ps. 118:1-2, 19-29
Liturgy of the Word: Isa. 50:4-9aPs. 31:9-16Phil. 2:5-11
Mark 14:1–15:47 or Mark 15:1-39 [40-47]

The Liturgy of the Palms and the Passion reading form a single dramatic story in which the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is presented against the backdrop of his eventual betrayal, Passion, and death. Those who cry, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” play their part in a horrible reversal. Looking to Jesus as he rides on the colt, the crowds feel a deep and ancient yearning for vindication. “Give us success!” tells the truth hidden in their burning hearts (Ps. 118:25).

The depth of this hoped-for victory corresponds to the depth of hate hurled at Jesus when he refuses to be co-opted by praise. Instead, he “succeeds” by doing the will of his Father, emptying himself, taking the form of a slave, humbling himself to death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). He becomes nothing, a nobody, a non-person, a victim exposed to human ridicule and the appetite of beasts. This is humanity’s final no to the anointed one of God. It is finished.

“Therefore God also highly exalted him and has given him the name that is above every name” (Phil. 2:9). The descent of Jesus into death on the hard wood of the cross — that is, a descent into hell — exposes the full significance of saying the Word became flesh. He took upon himself the beauty and brutality of human history. To do this, his death had to touch betrayal, abandonment, abuse, ridicule, agony, and horror. And yet, as the sinless Son of the Father, he bore this undeserved pain and death as a willing self-oblation of which his outstretched arms are a sign. The innocent Son of the Father dies at the hands of depraved human beings. This no to Christ the Lord did not, does not, and will not revoke God’s great yes to humanity given in Jesus Christ. God has exalted him, and raises, in love, his betrayers and tormentors to create a holy Church.

On this solemn day, we feel what has been done to Jesus and what is being done to Jesus even now. The abuse of the least of these is an abuse of the Son of the Father. We have sometimes felt this abuse. We have sometimes been its perpetrators. All have sinned. All have sinned against the gift of God. All have sinned in some measure in this way, in these words, in this torrent of emotion: They put their hands on him, spat in his face, blindfold him, struck him, beat him, mocked him, crowned him with thorns, hung him on a tree, derided him, and taunted him. Still, Jesus did not withhold his love. He is the Father’s love revealed, the everlasting desire for the consummation of all things in God. To do this, Jesus went to hell for us that he might draw all things to heaven.

There is a small glimpse of hope in the space between his death and his resurrection. There are women who looked on from a distance, who followed him and provided for him in Galilee. We can be these women; we can feel their love. Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus. He took the body down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and placed in in a tomb (Mark 15:46). Jesus said, “This is my body.” We may hold him, we may weep, and we must wait. Even his dead body asks, “Do you love me?”

Look It Up Read the Apostles Creed.

Think About It He descended into hell.


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