You have just heard the longest Mass reading of the year, the solemn reading of the Passion. It is the only Gospel read dramatically at Mass, in three parts—four parts really, since you take your part too as the congregation. I can’t remember much about the Masses I attended every Sunday as a boy, but I do remember Palm Sunday every year—how long it was, how we would kneel for some moments of silence after Jesus dies, and how strange it was to see the Gospel read dramatically, and even to have my own part to read in it. The Passion Story is the core of the New Testament. Biblical scholars tell us that it was the first part of the Gospels to be set in writing, and then eventually the rest of the details of Jesus’ life were filled in. It is the compact core of our Bibles, the essential summary of our faith; rightly do we read it with high solemnity every year.
Palm Sunday is also the only Mass with two Gospels. The Mass begins in green (with the reading of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem) but quickly turns to red (with the reading of his Passion in that same city). Jesus enters the holy city in triumph, but within days he is strung up on the blood-soaked cross by the furious crowds demanding his death. The crowds’ joyful acclaim quickly turns to violent hatred. How frail we are.
Emptying and being Filled
And yet Jesus never loses sight of his essential mission and purpose. He has come to die for his people, whether they love him or hate him. His love does not fail. And what about us? Brothers, for example, can you love your wife at the very moment that she is screaming at you? That’s the proof of love, when it’s under fire, when you are pinned to the ground.
St. Paul says “Jesus emptied himself … he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” And because of his obedience, God “greatly exalted him.” This is how you can love your wife, or your husband, or your child, or parent, or employer, at the very moment he or she is screaming at you: by self-emptying. You find love bygiving love. You become full by emptying yourself; you become great by becoming little. Some call this God’s Law of the Gift, that life is essentially a gift to be given, and only in giving do we receive. Many people, especially in our secular culture, think this is nonsense. They reject God’s way of glory through sacrifice. And yet … we all know it is true. No pain no gain. No guts no glory. Our secular culture tries its best to live the illusion of “buying on credit,” of just borrowing (or printing up) more money. But it can’t last. There comes a time when we need to stop spending what we don’t have, to empty ourselves, to give rather than to take. This is essentially what Christ did on the Cross. He stopped borrowing and started paying. He paid the price. And now it’s our turn.
Beyond the Cross
Don’t be afraid of blood. It’s the color of this Mass, and the color of our faith. The red blood of His sacrifice, of our sacrifice, waters the green and leafy branches of new life. We will pass beyond our crosses to a life beyond our capacity to imagine, if we stay true to those crosses with Christ. This week is the week to do it. Let’s be constant and brave this Holy Week, staying close to Christ, as did his Holy Mother, at the foot of the Cross. Beyond Good Friday rises Easter Sunday, for those who remain steady to the last drop of His Sacred Passion.