Sunday Sermon for April 1, 2012, Palm Sunday, Year B
Readings: Mk 11:1-10; Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1-15:47
In the first reading today God’s revelation to the Prophet Isaiah informs us that the Messiah would not only speak the Word of God, but that He would suffer for doing so. At the end of the reading he tells us that the Messiah would set His face like flint, knowing that He would not be put to shame.
Our Lord did, indeed, speak the Word of God morning after morning, but never did He speak it so eloquently or so boldly as He did from the Cross. St. Paul tells us in the second reading that Jesus was obedient to the point of death, even death on the Cross. Our Lord certainly spoke a few necessary words from the Cross, but it was His unspoken word of love and obedience that resounds through the ages.
At the beginning of Mass today we hear about the Lord entering Jerusalem on a donkey with people laying down their cloaks or leafy branches before Him. We do not necessarily understand the significance of this in our day, but it demonstrates our Lord as the High Priest. He is coming across the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem, as the High Priest would be doing on that very day. The High Priest would normally be carrying his lamb for the Passover, but Jesus is not only the High Priest, He is also the Lamb of Sacrifice.
The people may not have fully understood what they were doing. They may have been trying to show Him honor because He had raised Lazarus from the dead only days prior. Lazarus was from the village of Bethany, the area from which Jesus was coming. Regardless, the honor shown to our Lord is exactly the honor shown to the High Priest who would take that exact same route. It may be that the people were already lining the streets waiting for the High Priest or it may be that when they heard the din of the crowd as Jesus was making His way along the path that more people came out to see and honor Him. Whatever the case, the timing of His actions upstages the High Priest and shows our Lord to be the true High Priest.
The work of our Lord’s Priesthood was just only about to be exercised. In all that He had done over the previous three years, He had not done any work as a Priest. Of course, He could not be a priest in the normal Jewish sense of priesthood because He was not a descendant of Aaron from the Tribe of Levi. Instead, He was from the Tribe of Judah, so the priesthood granted by physical descent did not apply to Him; His Priesthood would be a of higher and spiritual nature.
As mentioned above, our Lord did not bring into Jerusalem a lamb to be sacrificed; rather, He was the Lamb to be sacrificed. This sacrifice took place at the exact time that the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple. Jesus and His disciples had celebrated the Passover early, a practice allowed by the Law. However, in the Gospel reading we note that the Passover celebration was ended prematurely.
We are told that they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives. There were very precise rubrics that were mandated for the Passover. There were specific foods to be eaten in a defined order, there were cups of wine that were to be consumed at precise intervals during the meal, and there were certain psalms that were to be sung, each at its proper time. This is what we hear about in the Gospel, but after singing the psalm they were supposed to consume one more cup of wine and then pronounce that it was consummated.
Everything is followed up to the end, but the Passover is only completed on the Cross. The High Priest had sacrificed the Paschal Lamb so that His Blood could be offered to God for the redemption of the people. This is the eloquent discourse given by our Lord on the Cross. Without words He fulfilled the will of His Father. He made clear to us that this was happening by referencing certain Psalms that referred to the crucifixion and death of the Messiah. The best known of these is in intonation of Psalm 22.
The same sacrifice has been offered continually for nearly 2000 years, and it will continue to be offered until the end of the world. The pagan centurion, at the moment of our Lord’s death, recognized what could not be grasped with the senses and proclaimed Jesus to be the Son of God. When we acknowledge His presence in the sacrifice of every Mass, we will join even now the song that will glorify God for eternity: Jesus Christ is Lord.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.