The Glory and the Cross

Today we recall how the mystery of our salvation is accomplished by our Lord Jesus Christ through His Passion, Death and Resurrection beginning with His messianic entry into Jerusalem

Mar 31, 2023

                                       Reflecting on our Sunday Readings with Fr Leonard Lexson

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (A)
Readings: Isaiah 50:4-7;
Philippians 2:6-11;
Gospel: Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

Today we recall how the mystery of our salvation is accomplished by our Lord Jesus Christ through His Passion, Death and Resurrection beginning with His messianic entry into Jerusalem. As Jesus entered the city on a donkey’s colt, the crowd that went before Him laid palm branches and spread their garments on the road while shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

In Greco-Roman culture, palms were a symbol of triumph and goodness in the royal household e.g., King Solomon had palm branches carved into the walls and doors of the temple (1 Kings 6:29). Palm branches were also customarily used for all festive occasions to symbolise joy (Neh 8:15). The spreading of garments was carried out for the kings, as was done for King David. When a leader chooses to ride in on a donkey, he is declaring that he comes in peace.

Thus, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt was one of triumph that affirmed His messianic royalty and as one who had come to bring peace to His people. The crowd that shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David…,” which means “save us, our deliverer!” was acknowledging Jesus as Lord and King who would deliver His people from the oppression of the Roman authority. However, the people looked to Jesus as more of a political conqueror to crush the oppressive Roman Empire — someone to fight their battles in a temporal world. They failed to understand that God’s ultimate plan was sending His Son to fight the final battle over death. Jesus, as Messiah, came to save souls, to give eternal life to all who believe in Him. He came to defeat Satan, to claim victory over sin and death once and for all. This is our belief – this is our faith and we are eternally grateful to God for claiming us as His own through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

In the liturgical celebration of “Palm Sunday of the Passion of our Lord”, the Church enters into Holy Week — the faithful throughout the world carrying palm branches, commemorates Jesus Christ as Lord and King. We commemorate Christ’s victory over evil and that Christ revealed this victory through His passion and death, that is, His acceptance of the cross through His ascent to Mount Calvary.

The procession with palm branches into the church also reminds the faithful of their “pilgrimage to heaven”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church #2691 states: “Pilgrimages evoke our earthly journey toward heaven and are traditionally very special occasions for renewal in prayer.” The procession to the sanctuary of the church symbolises the glory of God (heaven) where Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament and where the celebration of the Eucharist: the source and summit of all Christian life takes place. In the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist, we are drawn to a full, conscious and active participation of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. All our senses are engaged in giving glory and praise to the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings.

On another note, the blessed palm branches are taken and kept in the home, to serve as a witness to faith in Jesus Christ, the Messianic king, and in His Paschal Victory. They are therefore not to be thrown away or discarded for the Code of Canon Law #1171 states: All blessed items are not to be discarded in a trash can but treated with respect.

At the Eucharistic celebration, the priest blesses the palm branches to become sacramental. Sacramentals are anything set apart or blessed by the Church for the purpose of sanctifying our lives and leading us to the sacraments. They are sacred signs and provide for us grace (spiritual help) through the intercession of the Church. Blessed objects are symbols expressing and stimulating faith, hope and love and they are not magic. The palm branches are symbolic of life, hope and victory, especially that of the final victory Jesus would fulfil over death.

When we hold high these palm branches to hail Christ in His triumph, let us also be reminded that it was with Christ’s ultimate act of sacrificial love on the cross that we are free from death. Palm Sunday celebrated in one day prepares us to participate in the one great event that will be solemnly celebrated over three days, namely Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday and Easter Vigil. The greatest mysteries of our redemption of the crucified, buried and risen Christ. We remember Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, praise Him for the gift of salvation, and look expectantly to His second coming.

Fr Leonard Lexson is the parish priest of the Church of the Assumption, Petaling Jaya

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