20 March 2016: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Is 50:4-7  Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24  Phil 2:6-11  Lk 22:14–23:56
or Lk 23:1-49 (short)


Lent: songs and stories

As Lent draws to a close, the Lectionary readings for Palm Sunday give RCIA participants and the believing community many images to reflect on for Holy Week. Today’s readings include two songs and a story.

The first song is Isaiah’s third Suffering Servant song. Isaiah’s servant songs foretell the passion and glorification of Christ. The third song describes Isaiah abused by his people because they reject God’s message to them. Despite the prophet’s rejection, he remains faithful to God who continues to support him. This song serves as a prototype for Jesus’ passion and death.

The second song is the Carmen Christi (L: “Song of the Christ”), from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This early Christological hymn reflects on Jesus’ humility and love, demonstrated by his incarnation and saving death. The song then meditates on Jesus’ exaltation by God and his rule over the entire created cosmos. This song sets the full context for Jesus’ passion and death.

The story is Luke’s passion narrative. Unlike other parts of the gospels, which are short stories that tell of Jesus’ words or acts, the passion narratives are one, continuous story. This is why the Lectionary proclaims the entire passion story in one hearing on Palm Sunday. The passion narrative is rich and deep and deserves a full and careful reading. Here are three elements to consider:

  • Jesus’ saving act: Luke uses the word σώζω (SO-dzo), meaning “heal,” “save,” and “be made whole” four times in the crucifixion passage (Lk 23:33-43). The Jewish leaders say, “He saved others, let him save himself;” the soldiers tell Jesus to “save himself;” and co-crucified insurgent says, “Save yourself and us.” While those who reject Jesus mock his ability to save anyone, Jesus is saving and healing all humanity through his transformative death. Even from the cross, Jesus ministers to his enemies and cares for the marginalized.
  • Jesus’ completed work: Luke’s Jesus offers trusting and confident final words–“Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” His mission complete (see the second reading), he yields his spirit to the Father who will transform Jesus’ ignoble death into new life (see the first reading).
  • Reactions to Jesus’ death: The centurion echoes Pilate, Herod, and the co-crucified insurgent–all gentiles–saying Jesus did nothing wrong. The crowds express sorrow (“beat their breasts.”) The acquaintances and women followers are witnesses (“saw these events”) to Jesus’ passion and death; they will also be witnesses to the resurrected Jesus.

Palm Sunday introduces the most important feasts in the liturgical year. For RCIA participants, the Triduum–and especially the Easter Vigil–is the culmination of their journey to become full sacramental participants in our Catholic believing community. Their desire to become true disciples, to witness to the suffering servant and crucified savior, and to share Jesus’ resurrected life should make all of us stop and think. What do we think of Jesus’ saving act? How do we react to Jesus’ death? How to we participate in Jesus work? Where do we fit in Jesus’ story?

–Terence Sherlock

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