We began today’s liturgy by commemorating Our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Like the crowds who welcomed Jesus into the holy city, we carried palm branches. On the first Palm Sunday, the crowds spread their cloaks on the road and cried out: Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest. We sing these same words at every Mass, at the beginning of the Eucharist prayer. As this cry of hope was sung when Jesus came into Jerusalem, we sing this cry of hope when Jesus comes in the Eucharist to meet us in a new way. We greet Jesus with the cry of Hosanna since He comes again in the name of the Lord through the Eucharist. We greet the king who comes among us in the name of God, His Father.
In the liturgy today, the commemoration of Our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem occurs at the beginning of Mass. Then the focus shifts to the Passion. Notice that the Roman Missal calls this day: Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord. The focus shifts from the palms to the cross. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem becomes overshadowed by a greater triumph – the triumph of the cross. After all, this is the reason Jesus entered Jerusalem to begin with. He ascended to the holy city in order to ascend up Mount Calvary, to ascend the cross. The cross is the throne of the Son of David, of Christ the king.
Jesus’ ascent to Jerusalem is an ascent of love, an ascent to the cross. He entered Jerusalem out of love to die for us. 33 years earlier, the Son of God had descended at the Incarnation – He came down from heaven. He emptied Himself, Saint Paul wrote, in becoming man, and humbled Himself unto death, death on a cross. We will meditate this week on Our Lord’s suffering and death by crucifixion. On Holy Saturday, we will remember Jesus’ his descent into hell. These events naturally evoke sadness. But they also evoke joy – which is why we call this Friday “Good Friday.” On the cross, Jesus overcame sin and death with something more powerful: self-giving love. He reveals that love is more powerful than death. That is why on Good Friday we venerate the holy cross. It is the sign of the Redeemer who suffered and died for us. We carry the cross not as a symbol of defeat, but of triumph. It is the indisputable proof that God is love. Next Sunday, we will celebrate the victory of this love, the victory made manifest in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
I invite you to enter more deeply into prayer this week, especially through the solemn liturgies of the Church. In Holy Week, we celebrate the very core of our faith – the Paschal Mystery of Christ. We shouldn’t just proceed from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, experiencing only Jesus’ ascent to Jerusalem and the glory of the Resurrection, but also what happened in-between: the Last Supper on Holy Thursday and the ascent to the cross on Good Friday. How can one celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection without commemorating His death which accomplished our salvation?
As we relive the last days of Jesus’ life on earth this week, as we enter into these mysteries through the liturgies of Holy Week, we also see that we are part of this drama of salvation today. The cross is our school of wisdom even today. Our Redeemer calls us to follow Him, to ascend with Him to Jerusalem, to the cross, and to heaven. The cross teaches us that we do not find true life by grasping and possessing it. That’s what Adam and Eve tried when they ate from the forbidden tree. But the cross is another kind of tree – it is the tree of life. The cross, the true tree of life, teaches us that we find life by giving it. That’s what love is: the gift of self. Jesus’ self-giving love, the way of true life, revealed and symbolized in the cross, is thus our hope, our only hope. Our life cannot succeed without our saying “yes” with Jesus to the cross. The more we love, the more we give of ourselves (in imitation of Jesus), the greater and richer our life becomes. If we keep our life just for ourselves and live it just for ourselves, we lose it. But when we give our lives, even in small acts of love, then we find life.
May the Lord bless you with His grace during this Holy Week! May Mary help us to follow her crucified Son and to discover in the mystery of the cross the full meaning of life!