The celebrated entrance of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, cheered by crowds waving palm branches, is a vivid and striking testimony to the resolve that Jesus had built up within himself and shared with his disciples as he wended his way from northern Galilee to southern Judea.
“When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,” writes St. Luke. The lines actually read that Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem.” Jerusalem was Christ’s city of destiny. In fact, Jesus had shared knowledge of his fate with Moses and Elias when their hilltop discussion turned to “the exodus he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.” In St. Luke’s Gospel, this determination of Jesus to accomplish his mission in Jerusalem is made both menacing and promising. Jesus’ words of determination are menacing because they are immediately followed by Jesus triple prediction of his passion, death and resurrection. But the actions of Jesus are also promising because Jerusalem is where salvation will finally be accomplished and from where the proclamation of God’s saving word will go forth to the entire world.
During the course of this journey to Jerusalem, Jesus prepares not only himself for his horrid fate but he also prepares his chosen disciples and witnesses for the burdens they will endure after his passion, death and resurrection have been accomplished. In his words of preparation to his disciples, Jesus speaks of the rigor and the unconditional nature of Christian discipleship. Even family ties and filial obligations, such as burying one’s parents, cannot distract, no matter how briefly, from proclaiming the kingdom of God. Read again these demanding words from Jesus: “As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
The First Sunday of the Passion, Palm Sunday, is a celebration of commitment, determination and resolve. Christ, having put his hand to plow, never looked back. His first generation of followers, the apostles and disciples, left behind the spiritually dead to bury the physically dead while they themselves, alive with the Spirit, went off to preach the Gospel to every creature. Successive centuries of faithful Christians have not failed in their obligation toward Christ or in their evangelical obligations toward mankind.
Each Christian, in some fashion, faces a time of discipline and a time of suffering, a personal passion and death, as it were. In fact, life is a succession of Good Fridays and Easter Sundays, a sequence of dying and rising, a series of faults acknowledged and faults overcome. This Palm Sunday and the ensuing days of Holy Week provide a stimulating and significant occasion for intimate, spiritual re-dedication and re-commitment on the part of all believers. Each Christian is summoned to accompany Jesus on his single-minded journey up to Jerusalem. Holy Week provides a grim but beneficial program for individual and parochial spiritual renewal.
Holy Week is a communal Christian experience, as parishes gather to sing, pray, wonder and resolve. Holy Week is a profoundly liturgical event as the Church’s rituals re-enact and re-present the great mysteries of the Christian faith. The days of Holy Week are solidly Scriptural, providing much reflection on the life of Jesus, stimulating the interior life of every believer. Palm Sunday, Spy Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and Easter day graphically reproduce for the Christian the depths of the Paschal Mystery, the central mystery of faith. Believers, acknowledging that death is integral to the Christian life, can die to those sins that are so evident if a serious examination of conscience forms part of one’s daily routine. Believers, acknowledging that resurrection is central to the Christian life, can drive out fear and apathy, allowing the power of Christ’s resurrection to inform the soul with abundant new life. Holy Week is God’s invitation to die and rise with Christ.