Home » Gospel Encouragement – Passion/Palm Sunday

Gospel Encouragement – Passion/Palm Sunday

Dear sisters and brothers,

This Sunday’s feast can be referred to as either Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday.  The term Palm Sunday, in a sense, looks back, whilst Passion Sunday looks ahead. We look back to the amazing ministry of Jesus that led many to believe that he was and is the Messiah, and ahead to the fulfilment of what that title truly meant: his death and resurrection.  The palms acclaim his kingship whilst the Cross – as he describes it – becomes his throne.

At the heart of today’s feast is the humility of Jesus. It’s the central theme of today’s readings.  In our opening Gospel he enters Jerusalem on a colt, but what is a colt?  It’s a horse or donkey under four years old and, therefore, an animal that still hasn’t reached full maturity, maybe more of a pony than anything else.  More importantly it’s an animal that had great symbolism for the people of Israel of the time.  It’s the animal that a king would ride on as he entered a city in peace.  If he had come in war he would have ridden on a full-grown stallion, but the colt was a sign of coming on a mission of peace, a reminder of the angel’s message at Jesus’ birth: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will”.  It’s also the animal that a previous significant king – Solomon – had ridden on when he entered Jerusalem for his coronation; and Solomon’s name meant ‘peace’.  This might lead us to adapt a line from the Gospels: “there is something greater than Solomon here”.  And a colt is the animal that the prophet Zechariah had prophesied that that the Messiah would ride as he entered Jerusalem.  And so, the people were being given a very clear sign of what Jesus’ role as Messiah really meant: the King of peace makes his way to Jerusalem on a mission of peace.

And he does so at an incredibly significant time.  The Passover, the greatest feast of the Jewish calendar, would be taking place that week, and Jesus rides this colt alongside the crowds of pilgrims on the final stage of their journey.  These country folk are the ones who cry out “Hosanna” – which means, ‘save us’ – because they have been ‘amazed’ at his ‘authority’ and the signs that he has worked.  In contrast, when it comes to the Passion, and in particular the trial of Jesus, it is the city dwellers who have hardened their hearts against him.

And as part of the pilgrimage preparation, this is the day on which unblemished lambs will be brought to the temple in preparation for the Passover sacrifice.  Jesus comes as the ultimate unblemished lamb, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”, who will be sacrificed once and for all time, so that no further sacrifice is ever necessary, other than our commitment to follow where he leads.

As our second reading from Philippians reminds us, Jesus, the Lamb of God, was and is God made man, and he models humility as the means by which we can best follow him:

“his state was divine,

yet Christ Jesus did not cling

to his equality with God

but emptied himself

to assume the condition of a slave

and became as men are;

and being as all men are,

he was humbler yet,

even to accepting death,

death on a cross.

But God raised him high…”

As we begin Holy Week, let’s lift our gaze to the Lamb sacrificed on the Cross, where Jesus will show us what glory truly looks like, where he will fulfil his mission, where he will show us with the greatest clarity what our own mission involves and where he will reveal the unconditional love of God.  “Laying down his life for his friends” is his mission of love completed and our mission of love and humility placed clearly before our eyes.  Let us pray for ourselves this week that we may become ever more faithful as humble disciples of the true King, the King of peace.

With every blessing,

Simon