Reflection for Palm Sunday by FAN Executive Director, Patrick Carolan
This reflection was originally posted in our April 3rd newsletter
This Sunday we celebrate Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. Our services reenact the last week of Jesus’ earthly life and celebrate the eternal Christ on Easter Sunday. We sometimes think of this week as a play with separate acts. It is almost like the week was scripted and Jesus is just another character playing his role. A story was created of a vengeful God who demands a blood sacrifice to atone for something somebody did thousands upon thousands of years earlier. The crucifixion is sometimes viewed as a requirement to appease this angry God and the Resurrection as the happy ending of the story where Jesus goes to heaven so we can join him there later.
I often reflect on the question that two of our church’s greatest theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure, often debated: “If original sin never happened would it have been necessary for Jesus to come?” One of the saints argued that Jesus came to heal us from our sin, and if there was no sin there would have been no reason for Jesus. The other saint argued that the crucifixion was not the main event but rather it was the Incarnation, the moment when God became human, that changed everything. The Incarnation didn’t happen so God could open the gates to some faraway place. It is not the end of the story, as John’s Gospel tells us, “God so loved the world that he sent his only son” (Jn. 3:16). It is the next chapter in God’s first book, the book of creation. The incarnation is the beginning of the new creation, in which we all share in the power of the Spirit.
At the celebration of Palm Sunday we will reenact Jesus’ triumphant march into Jerusalem. I have often read that Jesus had to come into Jerusalem riding on a donkey in order to fulfill the scripture. Most of the time we miss the historical significance of Jesus entering Jerusalem. It was the beginning of Passover and, at the same time, a period of unrest and upheaval. There was a lot of dissatisfaction with both the leaders of the government and the Jewish religious leaders. The Roman governor Pontius Pilate led his Roman soldiers into the city to quell this unrest. He marched in to show his military strength. He would use this military strength to quash any thoughts of rebellion. At the same time the religious leaders were also feeling threatened. This young upstart was challenging their authority and, in their eyes, leading people away from the tradition of Moses. It was in this setting that Jesus entered Jerusalem with his followers, riding a donkey, which at the time was considered a symbol of peace. Jesus didn’t enter Jerusalem so he could check off another box on a “to do” list or to complete a prophecy. He was challenging the authority of both the religious and government leaders. His actions were acts of nonviolent resistance.
As we relive the most sacred moments of this holiest of weeks, let’s remember that we are called by our Baptism to be priests and prophets. We are called to be a reflection of God. St. John of the Cross taught us that human desire is unlimited. The heart of a human being is not satisfied with less than infinite. This infinite is clearly God. Our deepest human desire is a desire for God. When we turn away from God, we no longer consider God’s creation and all that it encompasses as sacred. As a result, our unlimited human desire for God expresses itself in materialism and consumerism. We have lost our spiritual connection to God, and therefore experience the consequence of humanity with no God. We have traded away our call to be priests and prophets for a dogmatic contract where the most important thing is whether or not we’ve passed the moral exam.
As Christians, the prayer we pray most often is The Lord’s Prayer. In it, we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” What do we think Heaven is like? Do we think God would find it acceptable for children to be starving in Heaven while others live in big houses and waste food? If not, then why do we think God would find it okay on Earth? If Jesus came to continue the creation and start Heaven on Earth then shouldn’t we join together as truly the “Body of Christ”, as one connected to God and all of God’s creation, and start building the kingdom of Heaven on Earth?
Peace and All Good
FAN Executive Director