Homily (2) Palm Sunday Year ABC: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Processional Readings ABC: Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; or John 12:12-16, and Luke 19:28-40.
Christ’s Humble Journey to Jerusalem,
Every year brings something new, some changes in our bodies, in our homes, families, villages, towns, in our local churches, Counties, local governments and nations! And in each of these changing years, the Church celebrates Palm Sunday which ends the Lenten Season and marks the beginning of the most Holy week in our Christian Liturgy. It is a week our savior will be exalted on the Cross. It is a week of that hour of glory come to fulfillment. In this Holy Week Christ, our Lord and Savior will be betrayed, falsely accused, plotted against (John 11:45-53), arrested (Matt 26:47-56), interrogated by Annas, Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin ( Matt 26:57-58), tried by Pilate ( Matt 27:1-14), denied by Peter (Matt 26:59-66), mocked and executed in a Roman way (Matt 27:15-56). In this very week Christ our savior, will draw everyone to himself, Jews and the Gentiles alike, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (John 12:32). It is a Holy and Salvific Week for us; a week of grace and hope; a week of victory over death, violent and injustice, lies and hatred; a week we see new life in the death of Christ. It is a teaching week for our religious communities, families and homes and nations!
It is a week we also learn to resist evil not with violence, not by chopping off “Malchus’ ear,” but with prayer, endurance and through peaceful process of dialogue and reconciliation. A week we learn not to act like Pilate, remaining indifferent to truth nor being in a hurry to condemn our neighbors, brothers and sisters, friends and children. It is a week each of us is invited to the foot of the Cross, a week Mary will be handed over to us, the faithful disciples of Christ (John 19:25ff). Our nations in the East, South, West and North, which currently engage in unnecessary political divides can also learn from this week.
The Palms we bless at this Mass reminds us among other things of those ordinary people, those pilgrims on the street of Jerusalem (those men, women and children) who gave Christ a royal welcome to Jerusalem for his suffering death and resurrection. It reminds us of the love that Christ has for each of us. It reminds us that each of us are also on a pilgrimage to embrace Christ on daily journey, into our lives and families, with enthusiasm and courage. The Eucharist we are about to celebrate as a community is also a place where we encounter and receive Christ. Also through the “Hosanna” (Psalm 118:26; Mk 11:1-10 and Luke 19:28-40) we sing we shall be inviting Christ, Son of David, the King of Israel to “save” us, to come into our lives, into our homes, offices, parishes communities, families and nations!
Finally, we need, humility to embrace Christ, carry palms, to stand on the pilgrim roads to spread the palms on the street for Christ’s entrance. From that Gospel (s) Reading (s), he is the source of this humility. Notice, Christ is a humble King, a King of Peace, riding on a donkey instead of a horse. During the time of David and Prophet Zechariah (cf 9:9) the donkey had been a sign of kingship, but later an animal for the poor, while the horses came to represent the might of the mighty one. Christ today presents us the image of a King of peace, arriving willingly, humbly, and out love to Jerusalem on a donkey not on a bullet and nuclear proof presidential Limousine.
With this we are reminded not only of Christ’s humility, his identification with the poor, but also his fearlessness, his prophetic courage to conquer death even death on a cross. Also, a message that Pope Francis has consistently repeated!
Wherever, we are sitting or standing, let us now with enthusiasm go forth in peace, praising Jesus our Messiah, and welcoming him like the Jerusalem multitude!
A Week of Victory over Death!
As I said at the beginning of this liturgy, today begins our Holy Week; a week of grace, love and Christ’s victory over death. It is a week we line up on the streets of Jerusalem, in the corners of our churches, offices and homes to welcome Christ, and to focus on him! It is a week we spread the palms of love and sings with the Church, “Hosanna to the Son of David…; the prince of peace, the trainer of humility, courage, endurance and the source of hope!
In fact, the meaning of what we celebrate this week, beginning from today is uncovered in the long Passion narratives of Christ, according to Saint Mark 14-15. This Passion narrative focuses on Christ and on the meaning of his Cross. Throughout our Christian journeys, not that we have not been focusing on Christ, but this week we are invited to intensify our focus on Jesus. We are call to pay closer attention to what his Passion teaches us: patience, humility, courage, love, endurance and forgiveness and his exaltation on the Cross. This week is a week of that long foretold "hour of glory" come to fulfillment.
In the Passion narrative just read, Christ experiences betrayal from one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot. Christ is falsely, accused, plotted against (John 11:45-53), arrested (Matt 26:47-56), interrogated by Annas, Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin (Matt 26:57-58), tried by Pilate (Matt 27:1-14), denied by Peter (Matt 26:59-66), mocked and executed in a Roman way (Matt 27:15-56; Mark 14:115:47). Humanly speaking, it looks ugly, but the good news is that Christ endured these accusations, and mockeries!. He endured his Passion. On the Cross he forgives sinners and robbers. He entrusted her Mother Mary to us, "Mother behold your son, son behold your mother. He also shouted sang Psalm 22 from the Cross, “my God my God why have you abandon me” teaching us how to endure and handle our experiences of pains, persecutions, poverty, and injustices! Even when we are frustrated hope and abiding faith in God our Father are recommended. When he eventually gave up his spirit, he commended it into his fathers hands "Into your hands Lord I commend my Spirit!. he died a Holy death in Holy Week. In his Holy death he draws so many to himself, Jews and Gentiles,, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (John 12:32). Many were at the foot of the Cross. In today's Gospel, the Centurion who witnessed Christ breathed his last, and the veil of the temple torn into two from top to bottom, professed faith in him that, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:1-39).
Like Centurion, this week reaffirms our faith in Christ, the true Son of God. Therefore, it is a week that we learn how to endure suffering and handle pains, loneliness, illnesses and the losses of our loved ones. It is a week of grace and victory over death, injustice, lies and hatred; a week we see new life in the death of Christ. It is a teaching week for our religious communities, families, homes and nations.
It is a week we also learn to resist evil not with violence, not by chopping off “Malchus’ ear,” but with prayer, endurance and through peaceful process of dialogue and reconciliation. A week we learn not to act like Pilate, remaining indifferent to truth nor being in a hurry to condemn our neighbors, brothers and sisters, friends and children. It is a week each of us is invited to the foot of the Cross, a week Mary will be handed over to us the faithful disciples of Christ (John 19:25ff). Even as a nation, parish and family, we can learn from Jesus this week, how to love, how to suffer, listen to Christ and how to endure like most of Israel’s prophets!
Like the Gospel, in the first reading, the 3rd Song of the Suffering Servant of God, which foreshadows Christ of the Holy Week, prophet Isaiah says, “I gave my back to those who beat me, and my cheeks to those who plucked my beard, my face I did not shield from buffet and spitting. The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced” (Isa 50:4-7).
Even though not everyone has beard to be plucked, we have many crosses of different forms (poverty, threats of Boko Haram, ISIS, drugs, guns on the streets, nuclear arsenals etc) in our lives that these metaphors invite us to carry with patience, hope and prayer, knowing that the Lord our trainer on the Cross is watching over us!
In our sufferings, and missions, we need to allow the Lord who hangs on the Cross this Holy Week, to train us including our tongues, our minds, hearts, eyes and souls, our determinations, to handle weariness and frustrations with great patience, wisdom, obedience and humility, like Christ that Saint Paul addresses to the Philippians today. Saint Paul says, “Christ Jesus though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God, something to be grasped…he became obedient to death, death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-11); for each of us!.
As we celebrate Palm Sunday today, let us not focus mainly on the weaknesses of Judas, Pilate, Peter, the Jewish Elites who handed Jesus over, nor on the Roman soldiers who nailed him to the tree! Let us not give into the pains, the mockeries, the spitting, our past failures. But let us appreciate that the obedient death of Christ on the Cross was not a defeat, but a victory. Let us focus on the positive meaning of Palm Sunday, the training he gives us: to endure pains, illnesses, rejections, abandonments, discriminations, racisms, tribalism, frustrations, poverty, injustices, and the loss of our loved ones, with the hope for salvation.
Truly, this is what makes this week a Holy Week!