CYCLE C . LENT . WEEK 6. HOLY WEEK – PALM SUNDAY
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
With the very lengthy Gospel in addition to the preliminaries of blessing of palms and procession, one may be tempted to suspend preaching a homily. Yet, it is fitting to say something by way of introduction about the meaning of the Paschal Mystery which we celebrate beginning with the events of this Palm Sunday.
It includes the suffering, death, resurrection, the ascension of Jesus into glory and the sending of the Spirit on the disciples to continue the work he began.
For liturgical and catechetical convenience, the Paschal Mystery is spread over a period of seven weeks, but it should also be seen as an indivisible single experience. Partly due to traditional and commercial influences, we tend to make more of Christmas than Easter, but in terms of our faith, Christmas only has meaning in the context of what happened in Holy Week and Easter.
It is instructive that Jesus embarked on this pilgrimage procession to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover immediately after Peter’s confession of faith in Caesarea Philippi where he rightly answered that Jesus is Christ, the Messiah.
The feast of Passover is the memorial of Israel’s liberation from Egypt and the sign of its hope of definitive liberation. Recall that in Egypt, the blood of the Passover lamb sprinkled on the doorposts secured the homes of the people of Israel as the angel of death passed over to kill the firstborn of the Egyptians.
Jesus knew that what awaited him in Jerusalem was a new Passover and that he would take the place of the sacrificial lambs by offering himself on the cross thereby opening the door to a new path of liberation and fellowship with the living God.
We join the crowd of disciples in this procession in joyful witness to Jesus Christ, in whom the loving Face of God became visible to us. This joy is also an expression of our “yes” to him. For the first disciples, it literally meant giving up their profession to take up a new one: discipleship, which has both external dimension such as walking behind Jesus on his journeys through Palestine but also interior aspect, which meant seeing life and living it as Jesus advocated and gives utmost expression with his self-emptying of this Holy Week.
The key to unraveling the events of this Week is thus given in today’s Second Reading from Paul’s Letter to the Christians at Philippi. “His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross”.
This expresses the mindset of Jesus which Paul urges us to have also if we want to identify fully with him as disciples. In spite of sharing the same nature as God, Jesus did not insist on his status.
He first of all took on our human nature in its fullest sense, being like us in all things but sin. But, even more, he descended to the very bedrock of human destitution – the servant, the slave. That was still not the end. He let go of all human dignity, all human rights, let go of life itself to die, not any “respectable” form of death, but the death of a convicted criminal in shame and nakedness and total abandonment.
This is the vision statement for the Christian. Yet, our instinctive self-preservation and the sensitivities we show over the slightest hurt or humiliation demonstrate just how far we have to go to have the “mind of Jesus.”
Jesus emptied himself of all that we stuff ourselves with in the bid to dignify ourselves before the world; ego, anger, fear, anxiety, self-love. When he did, he became filled instead with the Spirit of God his Father; the spirit he released (gave up) at his death. His followers will soon become filled with that Spirit which will energise them such that they, who like Jesus in the garden were filled with fear, will become filled with a fearless courage and joy to witness to him to the ends of the earth.
On the face of it, Jesus underwent such a terrible fate for political reasons; he had become the object of hate and prejudice for people who saw him as a threat to their self-serving political and religious practice. He therefore had to be eliminated by hook or crook.
However, his radical behaviour was the result of his unconditional love for all, including his enemies. In doing so, he expresses his Father’s will that all come to be aware of God’s unconditional love for them.
As we participate in the liturgy of Holy Week therefore, let us solemnly observe Jesus our Saviour and ponder on the values he championed in words and gestures so that we, in the very different circumstances of our own lives, may walk in his footsteps.
Let us not focus simply on his sufferings as though they are ends in themselves; they only have meaning because they lead to new life and new joy – the resurrection. Yes, when we identify with the ‘mystery’ of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, we ourselves experience a great liberation, a ‘passover’ from the enslavement of sin and self-love to the new life of joy and freedom.