With Palm Sunday the real drama of what it means to be a Christian begins to unfold. For us, the particular challenge this year of the pandemic, of course, is how to adequately celebrate and fully enter into the real spirit of Holy Week, given the real possibility of not being able to go to church. It requires ever more attention to the Gospel readings from now until Good Friday because these bring us into the heart of God’s purpose in sending Jesus, that is, to save us from our sins and to reconcile us to God and one another.
Jesus spent his earthly life moving in one direction – ‘up to Jerusalem’. He had no other direction to move in. And the whole of his life was a combination of continual teaching – his lived daily life, his silences, his miracles, his prayer, his gestures, his love for the people, his special affection for the downtrodden and poor and his acceptance of the total sacrifice of the cross and Resurrection. Yes! Indeed this is a week like no other in the Christian calendar.
As we read the events in today’s Gospel it is hard not to be struck by the momentum and pace which gathers around Jesus as he moves inexorably towards his final destiny. His humility and his self-emptying are the key to understanding these Holy Week events – and the possible catalyst for the personal conversion of each of us. And so, this week we are called to reflect on the full divinity and humanity of God, whose power, presence and promise can now and for all time come to us in a form and expression which we can understand and with whom we can be one. It is a kind of movement from death to life, from darkness to light, and it is remembered in flesh, tears and blood – all of the emotions of a very human being. We enter into solidarity with our saviour and everything is completed, redeemed and fulfilled.
And so, the challenges of Palm Sunday, and indeed of all of Holy Week, are our focus as we journey on our own way ‘up to Jerusalem’. The way of the cross is not comfortable and indeed at times, seems absurd. This is because we live in a world which prizes success, power, fame, wealth and prosperity and all of us can be tempted by these attractions. But this is not the way of Christ. He enters personally and fully into the very depths of human life – pain, suffering, betrayal, rejection and death – and this can prove life-giving for us.
Elements of the Palm Sunday story will resonate with all of us, for what they reflect about human nature. However it was this very humanity that Jesus embraced. He was betrayed by practically everyone, but he did not betray our humanity. That he could do this, is the foundation of our ultimate hope, not only in God, but in humanity too.