Palm Sunday has Christ entering into Jerusalem to a lot of fanfare. The people are in the streets to celebrate the coming of the Messiah. They are waving palm branches and spreading out their cloaks on the ground. This was a gesture to show respect and honor to the king. This people, oppressed by an unjust occupation force, is screaming spiritually for a king. Christ is much more than they could have imagined.
Sunday’s liturgy gives a topsy-turvy feel. We begin with a representation of the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. We have two Gospels, and in the second Gospel we read the account of the Passion of Our Lord. We may still be holding the palms we used to celebrate at the beginning of Mass, but now these palms become witnesses with us of the unjust condemnation and execution of the God-man whom we have come to love.
Who is it that is coming into Jerusalem, seated on a donkey? It is Jesus. It is Emmanuel. It is the one prophesied by Isaiah, 700 years earlier. It is the Virgin’s Son. The donkey was a beast of burden but also the mount of a king of Israel. Riding this animal became a sign for those witnessing it that the Messiah had arrived. This makes it so much more tragic that the same people would be crying out “Crucify him!” on Friday.
Something special about the book of the prophet Isaiah is that it invites us to contemplate prophecies that touch upon different aspects of the life of Christ. He speaks about the future king of Israel, born of a virgin. As well, he speaks of the suffering servant of the Lord, prefiguring the Messiah who comes to suffer and die for us to save us from our sins.
The Virgin’s Son, Isaiah 7:14
Isaiah was prophesying to the king Hezekiah, who did not want to believe the word of the Lord, coming through Isaiah. Isaiah offered a sign from the Lord, but Hezekiah refused to ask for a sign. So God himself chooses the sign, a virgin birth. It is impossible, as anyone can attest. A miracle would take place. No one mentioned that 700 years would pass before the prophecy would be fulfilled.
Jesus is the son of Mary. The man who would hang on the cross was born to a virgin in Bethlehem, over thirty years before. Christ is firmly present in human history, even as his origin is divine. In Luke’s Gospel, his birth is established within the reign of Caesar Augustus. In the Creed that we recite at Mass, his death is placed during the reign of Pontius Pilate over Palestine.
Jesus is God-with-us. Having a god interested in humanity and willing to suffer seems impossible for most ancient religions. Men were there to serve gods, to placate them and win special favors. It was not a role for gods to be serving men.
God-with-us is the reality that exists only within Christianity. It becomes much clearer in the case of the Eucharist. Jesus had to go back to Heaven on Ascension Thursday but he chose to remain on our altars and in our tabernacles in the gift of the Eucharist.
“God’s initiative always precedes any action of man, and even in the journey towards Him, it is He who first enlightens us, guides us and leads us, always respecting our freedom” (Pope Benedict XVI, 14 November 2012).
The mystery of Palm Sunday introduces us to a God who is seeking us. It would have been easy to ignore our need for him, but he wanted to interact with our daily lives and introduce us to a life of faith. He respects our freedom. When we make a procession on Palm Sunday, we are able to see many people who prefer to stay at home instead of celebrating the Eucharist and commemorating these mysteries of the Lord’s life.
Today is a good day to remember who the God-man is, He who will sacrifice his life on Friday for you. Jesus wants to save you from sin. Now it is your opportunity to turn away from sin and commit your life to Christ.
Questions for reflection
- How did you do with your Lenten program?
- Has meditating on the book of the prophet Isaiah helped you deepen your faith?
- What do you want to do during Holy Week to grow in your knowledge of Christ?