This afternoon and tomorrow morning Christian’s all around the world will celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into the city of Jerusalem. This celebration leads up to Holy Week and Easter, our greatest and most important celebration. Last night as we gathered together to relive the stations of the Cross, we meditated on what it might have been like for Mary to experience this journey alongside her son. A mother watching her child be welcome in such a powerful way on Palm Sunday, only to see him a few days later being ridiculed and murdered. It was so very powerful for me personally, that as we looked up at the wooden cross held high above our heads and read the 15th station, the Resurrection of Our Lord, my heart too felt as if it would burst with joy. Tears streamed down my face and I found it difficult to say the words, not because of my sorrow but because of the immense ecstasy that I felt pouring out on me.
This morning as I prepared to be a lector for Palm Sunday it struck me again that we as Catholics do that a lot. We don’t just sit passively and watch someone preach or perform, but on many of our special holidays we relive the events. We read the entire experience from Scripture with one person reading the narration, another the response of specific people (centurions, officials, pharisees, etc), the Priest reading the words of Jesus, and the entire audience the words of the ‘crowds.’ The story of Palm Sunday to many is just that, the story of one day two thousand or so years ago, in which one man had one experience. We as Catholics do not see it that way. Last night at the Stations of the Cross I was reminded of that truth. At the triumphal entry there were two kinds of people… there were those singing “Hosanna,” and those plotting revenge. There were those waving palm branches, and those sending daggers from their eyes.
Last night’s Stations reminded me of that. At each stations we are asked a question, challenged in our walk. Are you condemning Christ to death in your actions and words? Or are you bringing instead life and joy? Are you looking on as Jesus begins the walk to calvary? Or are you participating in carrying his cross? When Jesus falls are you helping him get back up? Laughing at his failure? Being compelled like Simon to do something you don’t want to do? Rushing forward like Veronica to comfort and console him? Crying for him but missing the message? Are you stripping him of his clothing and dignity? Or trying to restore him to the place he deserves? So many questions that there isn’t enough space in any amount of storage to contain the words that could be written about these simple 14 events.
The thing is they, like the scripture and tradition they are based on, speak to us in the here and now. They aren’t just about the time of Christ, but they are about our everyday life. Once again I must quote Blessed Mother Teresa as she paraphrases one of my favorite pericopes of scripture:
“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”
As Christians we see Jerusalem as the early model of the Church. So when we see Jesus being welcomed and reviled by the same people, we must ask ourselves.. How are we doing Church? When St. Matthew wrote those words in scripture he reminded us that we as the church must see Christ in every person we meet, not just in the building. Though Jesus is substantially present in the Sanctuary of the Eucharist, he is not trapped.. Not limited to that place. He is in every person we meet, every encounter we have is a moment in which we can serve Christ. So how are we doing? Are we welcoming them into our lives, into our domestic churches, with fanfare and joy? Or are we like Simon carrying their cross only because someone forced us to? Like Veronica are we wiping the face of those who need comfort? Or are we pushing them away?
In our current political sphere we see people who want to build walls, evict families from our presence, even if it means separating mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, infants from caregivers. How do we reconcile that with the message of Christ? It is to the alien, the refuge, the widow, and the orphan that we must look for the vision of Christ in our lives. It is to them that we must give a drink, not pluck their beard leaving nothing but bloody and raw skin. We must offer them dignity and clothe them with respect and love, not tear apart their clothes and gamble them away for our own comforts and benefits. We must rush forward to see him as a Mother sees her only child.. To see their suffering as our own.. To be like Mary and see their pain as a sword piercing our own hearts.. That we can strengthen one another.
Yes, we have an opportunity here to help those who are fallen by gossip, trash talk, bullying or teasing.. To help them get back up.. Clothe them with the armor of Christ, the breastplate of righteousness, the boots of peace, the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation. So we must look around and ask those questions of ourselves, to examine our lives every day, and say when I am standing at the water cooler am I building up or tearing down? When we take a smoke break are we gossiping or edifying? When we are away from parental supervision and authority figures are we watching things that help build each other up? Or watching things we know will tear someone down? Do we glorify God with every breath we breathe? Or are we letting Him down?
It’s Palm Sunday. Let us lift our branches both in the Sanctuary and in the world! As you go forward to receive that Sacrament, the Most Holy Eucharist, remember that it's not enough to just receive Jesus.. it's necessary to journey with Him... to pick up our own Cross and journey to our own Easter... That's what it means to live a sacramental life... Not just to receive it.. but to give it away. Not just to be aware of Christ.. but to allow the Sacraments to transform you into a 'little Christ' who then can begin to transform the world. Are you ready for that?
His servant and yours,
“He must increase, I must decrease.”