Sunday before Easter has two names, two events

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily April 9.

Today’s celebration has two Gospels and two names because it combines two events.

The first name is Palm Sunday, in which we mark Jesus’ apparently triumphant entry into Jerusalem, hailed as king, honored as the messianic Son of David, greeted with branches cut from trees and Hosannas on peoples lips.

We honor the Lord one day and yet are fully capable of betraying him the next.

But then Mass gets underway and we have the second name: Passion Sunday, in which we mark Jesus’ apparent defeat.

Betrayed and abandoned by the very men whom in retrospect he had just, hours before, instituted as the first priests at the same time as he instituted the Eucharist of his body and blood at the Last Supper. Arrested as a blasphemer, condemned as an insurrectionist, still hailed as king but only in mockery by his torturers. No more cloaks on the ground to honor him, now they strip him of his clothing to dishonor him.

The only branches from trees now is the wood of the cross to which he will be nailed and from which he will suffer the most painful and ignominious death possible at the time. No Hosannas on people’s lips now, just verbal abuse. Even God seemed to have forsaken him: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”

And yet that was the real moment of triumph! As the Centurion declared: “Truly, this was the Son of God!”

As we begin this Holy Week, we lift up palms to remind ourselves of just how fickle we are. We honor the Lord one day and yet are fully capable of betraying him the next.

For this reason, the ashes we received at the beginning of Lent were actually made from palm branches from the previous year, burnt to remind us of Jesus’ call to repentance (hence our sin) and the fact that we will return to the dust (hence our mortality) — sin and death, both of which did their worst on Good Friday, but over both of which Jesus will rise victorious on Easter Sunday, all the while recalling with immense gratitude the share he offers to us in his victory.

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