Homily Palm Sunday (C) 2013 – St Vincent de Paul, London
They don’t shout “Habemus Papam” but “Hosanna, Son of David”. The scene takes place in a suburb of Jerusalem, 2000 years ago. Jesus, the Messiah, enters Jerusalem. It is Palm Sunday. This feast day marks the beginning of Holy Week. In all Christian communities, we remember the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. His journey begins with his glorious entry into Jerusalem, accompanied by shouts of joy “Hosanna, Son of David”. People expect a lot of Jesus and have great hopes in him.
But as we have just heard in the passion narrative, the mood changes very quickly, when Jesus is condemned to death. On the eve of his arrest, we find Jesus in despair and alone in the garden of olives. In the moment of his greatest need, the disciples are unable to stay awake. “Why are you asleep?” Jesus asks. Why can’t the disciples stay awake? As it says in Luke’s gospel, the disciples were “sleeping for sheer grief”. Because of their grief, the disciples fall in desolation and all their energy is gone. We can understand the reaction of the disciple. Listening to the passion narrative, the trial of Jesus and the appalling torture leading to his death, we want to distance ourselves from what we just heard. We can’t continue our journey with Jesus any more. We have to protect ourselves and abandon him. I think this is a normal human reaction when we see somebody else suffering. We have reached our limits. We are overwhelmed. We turn away. It is good that we are touched by human suffering. As Christians, we are called to show pity and compassion. But we do not understand the meaning of Jesus’ suffering if we do not realize that Jesus’ suffering has a special purpose. He is suffering for us. Jesus’ journey does not end on the cross. As we begin holy week, we can see already the sunrise of Easter morning behind the cross of Good Friday. And before that on Holy Thursday, we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist: This is my body, given for you. On the cross, God in the person of Jesus becomes vulnerable. But his vulnerability is also his strength. This is why Jesus can pray in confidence to his father: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. This is a prayer of trust. Jesus prays with Psalm 31 and the sentence ends: “By you have I been redeemed, God of truth.” Amen.