Palm Sunday (Year A)
Palm Sunday is one of those occasions where the liturgy itself, with the blessing of palms, the procession and the reading of the Passion, gives plenty to think about without necessarily needing the input of a homily. However, today, we will not be gathering, not processing with palms and not hearing the passion read in our own church by readers known to us. Hopefully, though our parish does not have the facility, you will be able to join a Palm Sunday liturgy via livestreaming.
The liturgy of Palm Sunday makes many references to ‘crowds’. There are the crowds exultant at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In the Passion (this year from St Matthew) we hear also of the crowds shouting for his death. The one thing missing this year are crowds pretty much anywhere in the world. Currently a maximum of two people may gather and then keeping their distance: two is company – it takes three for a crowd. And yet we can be a crowd gathered together in spirit and in prayer at the start of this most holy of weeks.
The focus this week, Holy Week, is very much on the Passion of Our Lord. We read Matthew’s account today, on Good Friday we will read St John’s account. The events of the Last Supper and the Agony in the Garden also point and draw their meaning from the Passion. At this time of crisis, there will be much ‘passion’ across the world, where ‘passion’ reflects its proper meaning of suffering. There will be the suffering of those seriously infected who may be struggling to breathe; the passion of those who may be suffering from anxiety about the condition of loved ones; the passion of those suffering the pain of a bereavement shorn of the usual rituals and customs surrounding death. Other will be suffering acute anxiety about financial health.
As this week progresses liturgically we will come to Maundy Thursday and the commemoration of the Last Supper where Jesus brings us into communion with himself and brings our suffering into a union with his own suffering. After the supper Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane and there he prays, ‘Father let this cup pass from me’, a prayer that surely will be echoed by many across the world at this time and in the weeks to come. But for Jesus, this was not an expression of despair but the prelude to an affirmative trust in God: “nevertheless, let it be as you, not I would have it.” This sentiment may not so easily be echoed across the world. To understand why Jesus said this and make it our own we have to go further through this week, through Good Friday itself, through the deathly emptiness of Holy Saturday until we are, this time next week, able to enter into the greater mystery of the Resurrection.