Sunday Sermon for March 25, 2018, Palm Sunday, Year B

Readings: Mk 11:1-10; Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1-15:47

As we celebrate Palm Sunday we begin with a Gospel reading recounting our Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem to the joyful shouts of the people proclaiming Him to be the Son of David, that is, the Messiah. Our Lord had preached and worked many miracles over the course of three Passovers (between two and three years), but the raising of Lazarus from the dead seems to have convinced the people from the area of Bethany that Jesus was, indeed, the Promised One. As our Lord came down the Mount of Olives from Bethany to Jerusalem, the people were singing His praises.

The raising of Lazarus also seems to have convinced another group of people that Jesus needed to be eliminated. Rather than looking upon Him as the Anointed One, they chose to look at Him as a scourge, as someone who was dangerous to the status quo. The Gospel for Mass, the Passion of our Lord, presents Jesus in Jerusalem, again with people shouting, but this time for His crucifixion. The only shouts of joy came when He was sentenced to death. As our Lord walked with a Cross on His shoulders from the Antonia Fortress to Golgotha (600-650 yards), the people were mocking Him.

These two Gospels not only form a set of bookends for this horrific turn of events, but they also tend to garner the focus of our thoughts and words during the Mass. With this in mind, I would like to fill in a few of the details that took place between these events (there is space for only a few). I think this is important because when we say our Lord was crucified, while being absolutely true, it glosses over the prolonged agony our Lord suffered due to our sins.

In the Garden, St. Luke tells us clots of blood were falling from our Lord like sweat. The word in Greek is thromboi, clots, not drops. This is from a rare condition called hematadrosis. The bursting of the capillaries beneath the skin causes the blood to intermingle with the sweat. Not only does this cause clotting of the blood all over the skin, but it causes the skin to be excessively sensitive to the touch. Even the smallest amount of pressure is extremely painful. In this condition He was roughed up pretty badly by the cohort that came to arrest Him.

The betrayal by Judas and the abandonment by His Apostles must have caused a fair amount of anguish, but not as much as when St. Peter denied Him three times. This was during His trial at the home of the High Priest where the very men chosen to serve God now stood in judgment of God, found Him worthy of death, and led Him off to the Romans to kill Him. God was betrayed by His priests.

When the people called for His death, our Lord was handed over to be scourged. The Jews allowed only 39 lashes, but the Romans had no such limitation. From the Shroud of Turin it appears our Lord was scourged with two whips and a bundle of flexible rods. A Roman flagrum, the scourge used by the Romans, was made of either three or seven stands of leather with balls of stone, glass or steel fastened to the end of each strand. It appears two flagri were used; one had two balls on each strand and one had three on each. The body on the shroud shows 196 marks from the lashes and 372 bloodstains from both kinds of scourging (flagri and rods); there are 213 wounds on His back, and 159 on His front side.

When the soldiers crucified Him, the nails would have been put through the wrist, not through the hand as we usually see it. There is nothing in the hand that could hold the weight of the body and the nails would tear out from between the fingers. When the nails were put into the wrists they would have hit the median nerve causing pain that normally causes a person to pass out; there is no evidence our Lord allowed Himself this respite from the agony. The nail was put through the feet was to keep the person alive longer. The wrists could hold the weight of the body, but the person would die in minutes of asphyxia. With every muscle in His body cramping, our Lord had to pull up on His wrists and push up on the nail in His feet to breathe. Couple this with severe dehydration causing the pulling apart of most of His joints, His shredded flesh, and thorns, not like a wreath, but like a cap, pushing into His skull, and you realize our beautiful crucifixes with gold bodies fail to convey the full horror of what happened in the Passion.

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.

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