*Passion of Jesus by El Greco
The readings for today can be found here: Palm Sunday readings.
I love the Palm Sunday liturgy, in which we hear the arc of Jesus’ Passion as a whole, from his entrance into Jerusalem until the end. A friend of mine, who is a Protestant, remarked how she found that the Catholic service moves so incredibly quickly from the jubilant entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, into his arrest and passion. It seemingly takes only a few minutes to get from waving the palms in the service, to the crucifixion. Too soon, she thought! Why not stay with the celebration of his entrance into Jerusalem a little longer?
I, however, find it consoling to know that Jesus himself experienced a movement from being loved and celebrated, to suddenly suffering, being rejected, tortured and dying on a cross—because when we experience evil in our own lives, it usually is sudden in this way. For example, when my (now deceased) stepfather suffered a sudden fall and traumatic brain injury, my brother and I experienced sudden upheaval in our world, without any warning. We went from a normal day to day existence, to having to make serious medical decisions day in and day out. Although he recovered, his death years later was also sudden and without any kind of warning. There was no chance to say goodbye. Since then I have known many others with parents, spouses, or children in similarly sudden dire health situations. Or it may be we ourselves that suddenly find ourselves in a tailspin: as a person who has sometimes suffered from PTSD, I can find that I am happy and together for many days, weeks, even months—so well grounded I am certain I will never encounter a flashback again—and then the wrong trigger can send me into a different past time and place in my life, and into very deep suffering. It almost seems that evil would not be evil were it not as jarring and unexpected as it is.
The Passion narrative, too, shows us a Jesus who experiences evil and suffering in a way that is abrupt and sudden, one that throws his relationships into disarray.
My favorite way to pray with the Passion narrative is to imagine the scene and locate myself among one of the many figures who surround Jesus. Each year, I find that the connection is to someone different.
Am I more like Peter, fleeing the suffering of another person, because I fear suffering—either that of another person, or my own—and so deny Christ? Peter only wants a Christ who is strong, victorious, and cannot stay with the one who suffers and experiences real weakness. Have I betrayed someone, like Judas betrayed Jesus? Am I like those who witness Judas’ betrayal, and want to draw a sword and take up a fight in ways that make things worse, rather than better? Am I like the milkmaid, who is seemingly on the lookout for potential wrongdoers? Do I, like Herod, demand that Jesus prophecy or “show me miracles in order to have faith? Am I like Pilate, so interested in maintaining my own political power and status, that I condemn an innocent person to death in order to protect myself?
Or am I like the John, Mary, and the women who tend to Jesus, minister to his needs, and stand faithfully at the Cross, never abandoning him and trusting in God’s power to somehow redeem the situation? They, like us, can only stand at the foot of the Cross if they trust in God’s power and not their own, and are willing to stay with, rather than to run away from Jesus’s suffering. The basis of their fidelity must be a courageous trusting love of God and wholehearted belief in God’s redemptive power to heal, reconcile, restore.
We can also ask God to help me to better understand Jesus’ own viewpoint, how Jesus looks at evil and suffering in the world. What did Jesus see when He looked down on all these different folks from the Cross? God’s Love is more powerful than any kind of evil or suffering. God’s Love wants to redeem it and to redeem us.
Passion Sunday starts us on the road to our own holy week and entrance into Jesus’ redemptive suffering and love.