|Procession||Reading 1||Response||Reading 2||Gospel|
| Mk 11:1-10 or
|Is 50:4-7||Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24||Phil 2:6-11|| Mk 14:1-15:47 or
Mk 15:1-39 (short)
|Lectionary note: Reading options|
|On Palm Sunday, the Lectionary offers optional readings for the procession with palms: either Mark’s account or John’s account. This reflection uses Mark’s account.|
Palm Sunday’s songs and stories
At the start of Holy Week, the believing community follows Jesus from triumph; through an intimate meal with friends; and into betrayal, suffering, and his saving and transformative death. RCIA participants experience the Triduum feasts, concluding with the Easter Vigil’s sacraments of initiation. In story and song, today’s readings trace Jesus’ arc of triumph, suffering, and death.
In the processional reading from Mark, Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph. Jesus’ entry is prophecy-in-action: Jesus, who has downplayed his messiahship to this point, now reveals his identity through a full range of Hebrew scripture prophetic references. The colt (Zech 9:9), the cloaks (2 Kgs 9:13), and the leafy branches (1 Mac 13:51) all echo kings’ and warriors’ victorious entrances into Jerusalem. The pilgrim crowds welcome Jesus with joyful songs: Hosanna (“Save! Now!”)! Blessed the one coming in the Lord’s name! (Ps 118: 26).
The first reading is Isaiah’s third “servant song.” Scripture scholars identify four servant songs in Isaiah: 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, and 53:1-11. The early ekklesia read Isaiah’s songs as proof-texts for Jesus as messiah, and included these passages in their liturgies. The suffering servant type or model informs both the second reading and gospel: “I gave my back to the ones who beat me,” “I did not shield my face from buffets and spitting,” “God is my help; I am not disgraced.”
The second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, also includes a song. Scholars believe Paul quotes a liturgical hymn he taught the Philippian ekklesia in AD 50. This hymn, called Carmen Christi or Christ-song describes Christ’s humility (“emptied himself,” “took on a slave’s form”), obedience (“obedient to God to death”), and ultimate vindication (“God has super-exalted him”). Paul cites Christ’s humility and obedience as a model for how the Philippians should live.
The gospel tells Mark’s version of Jesus’ passion and death. While we understand Jesus’ suffering and death as an historical event (something that actually happened), Mark’s account is influenced by both scriptural and liturgical elements:
- Scriptural elements. Mark is careful to show how Jesus’ words and actions, as well as the words and actions of the Jewish leaders and Pilate, fulfill Hebrew scripture. For example:
- Jesus is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah: Jesus is silent before Pilate; the Servant “did not open his mouth” (Is 53:7). Pilate says Jesus has done nothing wrong; the Servant had “done no violence, there was no deceit in his mouth” (Is 53:9). The soldiers spit on and insult Jesus; the Servant “did not hide his face from insult and spitting” (Is 50:6).
- Jesus is the king of the Jews: The Jewish leaders tell Pilate that Jesus claims to be “king of the Jews,” a gentile-ready translation of the Jewish religious term “messiah.” The “king” title forces Pilate to treat Jesus as a seditionist or revolutionary. In Mark’s story, Jesus’ kingship is ironic. The soldiers mock Jesus’ kingship; they post “King of the Jews” on his cross; and the priests and scribes jeer at Jesus the king. Jesus’ resurrection will show that he is, in fact, the messiah and therefore “king of the Jews.”
- Liturgical elements. Before Mark wrote his gospel, Mark’s community remembered and commemorated Jesus’ saving and transformative life, death, and resurrection in liturgical words and actions. On the cross, Jesus quotes Psalm 22 (v 2), a liturgical lamentation psalm. Mark incorporates elements of Ps 22 in his narrative: “My God, why have you abandoned me?”, “All who see me mock me, they shake their heads,” “If [the Lord] loves him, let him save him,” “They have pierced my hands and feet,” “They divide my garments among them.” Mark uses this psalm as a template within his passion story to frame Jesus’ suffering, despair, prayer, vindication, and deliverance.
The Palm Sunday readings inscribe the arc of Jesus’ life and mission. Jesus enters Jerusalem amid songs about the royal son of David. Isaiah sings about a suffering servant who is beaten and spit on but who believes in a God who will vindicate him. Paul sings of a divine son who chooses to become human, who accepts death, and whose death God transforms into life for all. Mark describes the last hours of Jesus earthly life. Palm Sunday previews the stories, songs, and mysteries of the Triduum. Our Lenten preparations should ready us to sing Easter alleluias. Are we ready to rejoice or are we still humming sad lamentations?