40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion, 02 April 2023 Isaiah 50:4-7 > + < Philippians 2:6-11 > + < Matthew 27:11-54
We now enter the holiest week of the year, the height of our Lenten preparations for Easter. What we have today are two ancient celebrations merged by Vatican II in 1963: the blessing of palms practiced in Jerusalem as early as the fourth century and the papal tradition of proclaiming the very long gospel of the Lord’s Passion in Rome about year 500. Hence, the title “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion”.
And it is a beautiful innovation in our liturgy showing us so many truths in our lives like we begin Holy Week with the triumphal entry of Jesus to Jerusalem, leading to the Holy Triduum of Passion and Death on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday into the bursting joy and glory on Easter.
That for me is life itself.
We come into this world in triumph like Jesus with everybody rejoicing with our birth until we grow up, going through a lot of pains and sufferings with little deaths right in the hands of those supposed to love us but always, there is the joy of maturity, of fulfillment in Christ with many Easter moments of triumphs and consolations. Today’s celebrations remind us that while there will always be the disappointing manifestations of sin and evil in life, overall, there is always the immense and immeasurable love of God expressed in Jesus Christ dying on the Cross.
Our gospel is very long even in its shorter version. Let us focus on the Lord’s silence from his arrest to His crucifixion.
The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord God is my help, therefore, I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.Isaiah 50:4, 6-7
Jesus is the fulfillment of the so-called Suffering Servant of God in the Book of Isaiah. What is striking is how he claims to have been given with a well-trained tongue but He rarely spoke when tried and crucified, choosing to be silent in the midst of great sufferings. What a great display of love for us!
In a world drowning in a cacophony of sounds and noise with everyone and everything speaking like elevators and cellphones, the more God is silent, waiting for us to stop and listen to Him in Jesus Christ who speaks within us. From Pilate to the soldiers to the Pharisees and priests with their rabid packs of demagogues who ceaselessly mocked Jesus even while slowly dying on the Cross, Jesus remained silent.
Because He loves us.
Because He waits for us to stop and listen.
Because life is more true and fulfilling in silence, not in sounds and noise.
Last Monday we celebrated the Feast of St. Joseph where we heard in the gospel how an angel told him to take Mary as wife with the specific task of naming her child “JESUS” which means “God saves”. See how God gave that specific mission to the most silent man in the Bible, St. Joseph who must have taught Jesus the value of silence!
That is how God saved us in Jesus by remaining silent even on the Cross. If ever He spoke, it was mostly to pray the psalms. In Jesus, God saves us in silence while we are in the din of noises of sin. Oh how we speak a lot these days against God, still putting Him on trial, blaming Him for all the problems and woes we have in our lives and in the world.
Like Pilate and the crowd with their religious leaders, we say a lot about God that are often not true but He never argued nor debated with us just like then because Jesus loves us, because His name means “God saves” and that was exactly the meaning of His silence.
How could be God so demanding as many would claim with His many words of instructions and commandments of things to do and not to do plus warnings against sin just to obey Him when He has always been silent?
Today we are reminded how we talk too much and accomplish so little, even nothing, while Jesus is silent because His name means “God saves”, witnessing it in fact in silent sufferings that was a scandal for many at that time.
Moreover, Jesus showed us today in His sufferings how silence is ultimately the expression of trust in God. When we are able to slow down and be silent in the face of many trials, that is a clear indication of our deep faith and trust in God. People who trust are the most silent because simply wait for their deliverance or salvation. Like Jesus Christ.
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.Philippians 2:6-8
More scandalous than the silence of Jesus Christ during His trial was His crucifixion, the supreme expression of His name’s meaning, “God saves”. See how since the fall of Adam and Eve, sin has always been an attempt by humans in becoming like God. There has always been that conscious or unconscious feeling of competition with God whom many see as controlling, manipulative and even power-hungry.
But right there on the Cross, Jesus showed us that indeed, in His very Person how God saves by utterly being weak and powerless.
God saves us in Jesus through the path of powerlessness and weakness, docility and humility, of simplicity before men and before His Father.
That is why even at His triumphal entrance to Jerusalem, He rode a lowly donkey never been used by anyone, a fulfillment of many Old Testament allusions and prophecies that “your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden (donkey)” (Mt. 21:5; Zech. 9:9). His triumphal entry into Jerusalem was the fulfillment of the words of God to his prophets, showing us that indeed, everything Jesus did and said were in accordance with the Father’s will, never on His own.
Because His name Jesus means, “God saves”.
What is most beautiful in the reading earlier at the blessing of palms was how Matthew described the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem – exactly just like the coming of the wise men from the East!
And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken…Matthew 21:10
Imagine how a very large crowd welcomed Jesus, spreading their cloaks on the road where He passed, chanting “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Mt.21:9).
Like when Jesus was born and Magis from the East came to Jerusalem inquiring about the newborn king of Israel, they were also shaken! And the irony then at His birth and at His triumphal entry, the learned have refused to recognize Him despite their having all the knowledge and writings available to them.
Is it not the same thing continues to happen to us in our lives, when despite all the kindness and mercy of God, we refuse to recognize His Son’s coming Jesu Christ including the salvation He had gained for us? Where have all the people gone on Sundays? Does God still matter to us? Do we not care at all whenever Jesus comes to us most especially in the Eucharist during the Sunday Mass?
Both the rites of the blessing of palms with the procession and the Mass on this Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion are not merely a recalling of a past event, but a making present, a re-membering of Jesus our King triumphantly coming daily – still in silence – to us in the simplicity of bread and wine to become His Body and Blood for us to offer and share in order to experience Him, our Resurrection and Life because His name means “God saves”.
In the Eucharist, Jesus comes to us as “God saves us”, fulfilling us, blessing us.
This Holy Week, especially at the Holy Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil, we are reminded of our task to witness to everyone the meaning of the name of Jesus, “God saves” by being present to Him in the Eucharist. Inside the church. With our family. Not in the beach nor a resort unmindful of history’s greatest moment when God saved us from sins by dying on the Cross. Amen. Please, have a meaningful Holy Week to experience the joy of Easter!