"This week started with joy and will end with joy on Easter Sunday."
In this column, I quote extensively from the homily of Pope Francis on Palm Sunday six years ago, on March 24, 2013. His words—first joy, second Cross—are the perfect opening reflection for Holy Week. (He also offered a third word then—youth—because Palm Sunday in 2013 coincided with World Youth Day.)
Pope Francis begins with a description of what happens on what we now call Palm or Passion Sunday:
“Jesus enters Jerusalem. The crowd of disciples accompanies him in festive mood, their garments are stretched out before him, there is talk of the miracles he has accomplished, and loud praises are heard: ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’
Crowds, celebrating, praise, blessing, peace: joy fills the air. Jesus has awakened great hopes, especially in the hearts of the simple, the humble, the poor, the forgotten, those who do not matter in the eyes of the world. He understands human sufferings, he has shown the face of God’s mercy, and he has bent down to heal body and soul.
This is Jesus. This is his heart which looks to all of us, to our sicknesses, to our sins. The love of Jesus is great. And thus he enters Jerusalem, with this love, and looks at us. It is a beautiful scene, full of light – the light of the love of Jesus, the love of his heart – of joy, of celebration.”
Pope Francis observes how at the beginning of Mass, and we do this in the Philippines too, we we also wave our palms, our olive branches: “We too welcomed Jesus; we too expressed our joy at accompanying him, at knowing him to be close, present in us and among us as a friend, a brother, and also as a King: that is, a shining beacon for our lives. Jesus is God, but he lowered himself to walk with us. He is our friend, our brother. He illumines our path here. And in this way we have welcomed him today.”
Francis emphasizes what should be the first word for this Holy Week: Joy! An unexpected, unlikely thing to say, a sentiment we are not accustomed to in our culture when Holy Week has been equated with sorrow and grief. But the Vicar of Christ admonishes us: “Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement! Ours is not a joy born of having many possessions, but from having encountered a Person: Jesus, in our midst; it is born from knowing that with him we are never alone, even at difficult moments, even when our life’s journey comes up against problems and obstacles that seem insurmountable, and there are so many of them! And in this moment the enemy, the devil, comes, often disguised as an angel, and slyly speaks his word to us. Do not listen to him! Let us follow Jesus! We accompany, we follow Jesus, but above all we know that he accompanies us and carries us on his shoulders. This is our joy, this is the hope that we must bring to this world. Please do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Do not let hope be stolen! The hope that Jesus gives us.”
The second word, according to Pope Francis, is Cross. He asks: “Why does Jesus enter Jerusalem? Or better: how does Jesus enter Jerusalem? The crowds acclaim him as King. And he does not deny it, he does not tell them to be silent.”
But then, Francis asks, what kind of a King is Jesus? “Let us take a look at him: he is riding on a donkey, he is not accompanied by a court, he is not surrounded by an army as a symbol of power. He is received by humble people, simple folk who have the sense to see something more in Jesus; they have that sense of the faith which says: here is the Saviour. Jesus does not enter the Holy City to receive the honours reserved to earthly kings, to the powerful, to rulers; he enters to be scourged, insulted and abused, as Isaiah foretold . . .”
Jesus enters Jerusalem and receives “a crown of thorns, a staff, a purple robe: his kingship becomes an object of derision.” Jesus enters Jerusalem to climb Calvary, carrying his burden of wood. And this brings us to the second word: Cross. Jesus enters Jerusalem in order to die on the Cross. And it is precisely here that his kingship shines forth in godly fashion: his royal throne is the wood of the Cross! Why the Cross? Because Jesus takes upon himself the evil, the filth, the sin of the world, including the sin of all of us, and he cleanses it, he cleanses it with his blood, with the mercy and the love of God.”
Pope Francis invites us to to look around us, at the world we have,at “how many wounds are inflicted upon humanity by evil! “ He points to” wars, violence, economic conflicts that hit the weakest, greed for money that you can’t take with you and have to leave.” He urges us to be aware of our personal sins – “our failures in love and respect towards God, towards our neighbour and towards the whole of creation.”
Pope Francis reminds us of Jesus on the Cross who carried the whole weight of the evil, and with the force of God’s love conquered it, he defeated it with his resurrection.
Yes, this week started with joy and it ends with joy on Easter Sunday. I echo Pope Francis: “This is the good that Jesus does for us on the throne of the Cross. Christ’s Cross embraced with love never leads to sadness, but to joy, to the joy of having been saved and of doing a little of what he did on the day of his death.”
Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.
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