Palm Sunday at St. Matthew Cathedral, South Bend
It is good to be with you today, Palm Sunday, here at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral, to begin Holy Week together. I look forward to being here again this evening for the “Prayer for the Martyrs” and also tomorrow evening for the Chrism Mass. I will return on Friday to pray with you at the solemn Celebration of the Lord’s Passion.
Today we heard Saint Matthew’s account of the Passion and Death of Our Lord. On Good Friday every year, we hear Saint John’s account of the Passion and Death of Our Lord. I hope that all of us truly enter into this Holy Week with our minds and our hearts lifted up to the Lord, focusing on the great event of our salvation: the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. Attending the Holy Week liturgies is an important way to enter into the mystery of the redemption, to make this week truly holy in our lives. But it takes some effort, especially to make time for the Lord, for prayer, and for the liturgies of this week, especially the Paschal Triduum. I encourage you to take advantage of all the graces of this Holy Week, to live this week with special reverence and devotion.
Today, we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It was a royal entry, the entry of a king, the Messiah. The people recognized this and called Jesus “the Son of David.” They cried out; “Hosanna to the Son of David.” They spread their cloaks and tree branches on the road, Saint Matthew tells us. It was like we would say today: “They rolled out the royal carpet for Him.” It must have been quite a scene and a lot of commotion. Matthew tells us that “when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken.”
Now up to this point, Jesus was very careful to keep His identity as the Messiah quiet. But that secrecy ended when He entered Jerusalem to undergo His Passion. Jesus was very purposeful about this. He started the procession to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, the place where King David mounted an ass, a donkey, when he was fleeing Jerusalem in exile. When David left Jerusalem and went to the Mount of Olives, there were cries of lamentation. Now we have the king’s return. The Son of David, the new king, Jesus, also mounts a donkey and goes from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem amid shouts of jubilation: “Hosanna to the Son of David… Hosanna in the highest.”
Why did Jesus insist that his disciples go into the village to get an ass and a colt for Him? Besides an allusion to King David, it was to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah about the Messiah, the new king, entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey.
In the book of Zechariah, we read: “Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” Many people had hoped Jesus was the Messiah, but, as I mentioned, Jesus kept His identity quiet, until Palm Sunday. His riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was a bold announcement that He was the Messiah Jerusalem had been waiting for. He was the King who entered not on a horse or chariot, not with weapons, but He entered “meek” and riding on a donkey. This was His kingship. He’s the King who will bring peace, not war. This went against the popular view that the Messiah King would be a warrior who would overthrow the Romans and establish a powerful restoration of David’s kingdom. Yes, Jesus did establish a kingdom, but a kingdom not of this world. He inaugurated the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace. On Good Friday, at the trial, Pontius Pilate asked Jesus; “Are you the King of the Jews? Jesus answered affirmatively: “You say so.” Of course, Pilate did not understand the kind of kingship Jesus holds. Later, in the praetorium, the soldiers dressed Jesus in a mock royal robe – a scarlet military cloak – worn by Roman military and high officials like the emperor. They put a crown of thorns on His head and a reed as a royal scepter in his hand. They knelt down as if paying homage to a king, and mocked Jesus, saying Hail, King of the Jews. They spat upon Him and beat Him. Again, fulfillment of prophecy as we heard in today’s first reading from Isaiah: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.”
(At the very beginning of His public ministry, Jesus said: “The Kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe in the Gospel.” For three years, he went about preaching the Kingdom of God, especially in His parables. He also gave us signs of His Kingdom: the many miracles He performed, including exorcisms, signs that the coming of God’s Kingdom means the defeat of Satan’s Kingdom. It was above all in the great Paschal Mystery, what we remember and celebrate this week – his death on the cross and His Resurrection – that Jesus accomplishes the coming of His Kingdom.)
At this Mass and at every Mass, we worship Christ our King. We sing the same words sung by the people on that first Palm Sunday: “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” And Our Lord comes. Our King, who entered Jerusalem humbly and with meekness, riding on a donkey, comes to us under the humble form of bread and wine. This is the banquet of our King. It’s the sacrifice of our King. During this Holy Week, may we all give honor and praise to our King who reigns from the wood of the cross, our shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, our God who loved us to the end. I hope and pray that this week will truly be holy in your families, in this parish, and in all of our hearts as we remember the holy Passion of our Lord and King.