Homily for Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017Published:
With our Lenten observance for this year about at an end, we have reached the week we call Holy, during which we will make present this year in a special way the mystery of the dying and rising of our Savior. In a fitting way, we are beginning observance with our celebration of Palm Sunday. At the beginning of our celebration today, we raised our voices in the words of that crowd of long ago who welcomed into Jerusalem Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” And just now, in the account of the Passion from the Gospel of Matthew, we have raised our voices in the words of that crowd of long ago – many of whom had undoubtedly been among those joyfully welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem – Crucify him! Crucify him! It is fitting, because we, who have been given the dignity of the name “Christian” by our baptism, at times welcome Jesus with joy – especially if it is safe to do so when everyone else is doing the same – and all too often by our sins, find ourselves among the crowd requiring his death. How well this Holy Week fits us.
The reading from the Apostle explains in beautiful simplicity the drama that has unfolded for us in the narrative of the Lord’s Passion: Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself…becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Or, as the Letter to the Hebrews instructs us elsewhere: Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
But what does this mean when we say becoming obedient to the point of death, or he learned obedience from what he suffered? For surely it was the perfect love and obedience of the Son, who from all eternity, in the life of God which is love, returns all that he has received from the Father back to the Father in the power of the Spirit – it was this perfect love and obedience by which he had already emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness. It was thus in the same humanity which he shares with us, always united to the person of the Son of God, that Jesus faced the last enemy, which is death with its ultimate challenge of absurdity and meaninglessness, and gave witness that the love of God is ever more powerful than death can ever be. So it was that Jesus did not have to learn obedience for himself – he who was obedient in love from all eternity. Rather, he experienced obedience in that humanity he shares with us so that we, his body, might learn from him, our head. It was for our sake that he loved us unto death, even death on a cross. As the Letter to the Hebrews states elsewhere: Since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise share in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life. We are the ones subject to slavery, and thus too often we join the voices of those requiring Jesus’ death, as we did just now. For in our weakness and our ignorance we struggle against the fear of pain and nothingness and meaninglessness, and our sins are so often a distorted attempt to grasp as some pleasure, or security or satisfaction to dull our fears. Yet through the power of evil, we grasp at partial, or distorted or incomplete good as though it were ultimate. And so it took an immense love, willing to suffer the bitter death of the cross abandoned and alone; it took an immense love by which the Father did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all to give us the hope to trust that only by unwavering obedience to God and unshakeable trust in God’s immense love can we come to that never ending love, joy and peace which will fulfill our deepest longings. This was the lesson which Adam and Eve so fatally ignored in the account of the Fall. This is the lesson which our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ teaches us today in the account of his Passion and Death.
So let us, too, make the words of the Prophet our own: I have not rebelled, have not turned back…The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
It is in the power of the Spirit that the Son has loved the Father in perfect obedience for all eternity, that he took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was led to the cross. It is in the power of the same Spirit that he rose glorious from the dead, never to die again. That same Spirit has been imparted to us in Baptism and Confirmation. So that we may always live in the power of the Spirit, I invite you, urge you and beg you to join with the whole church in the celebration of the coming Easter Triduum, either with us here or in your own parish, that by the church’s liturgies of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper Holy Thursday evening, the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday, and the Great Vigil on Holy Saturday night, we may be strengthened in the power of the Holy Spirit through these celebrations of God’s love. For we are to be so conformed to Jesus Christ that we may by patience share in his sufferings, be conformed to him finally by a death like his trusting in the Father’s great love, so that, with him, we may live forever with all our loved ones and his holy ones.
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