Palm Sunday A


It says in the Roman Missal that the reading of the Lord’s Passion is then followed by a brief homily.  Then there is a picture of tiny Catholics cheering, which seems a little unnecessarily mean.

The grim and gripping story of the Lord’s passion seems so foreign and bizarre.  How could they not see the innocence in Jesus?  How could they do that to one who only wanted love and justice to prevail?  It was so outrageous and so real to me as a kid that I can remember praying the Stations of the Cross and telling my mother that it is great that we are praying and all, but shouldn’t someone go to Jerusalem and actually stop this!

Yet, that is not how everyone hears this story.  For some, it is not foreign or bizarre.  For some it is their reality.  For some it is their fear.  For the people of Jesus’ time, it did not seem foreign or bizarre in a civilization ruled by the Roman Empire.  The Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome, was a brutal thing.  The death penalty was applied to all who threatened Rome, harbored ill thoughts to Rome or even were rumored to be a threat like Jesus.  The cruelties of the crosses, spread along the countryside were a reminder of Rome’s violet supremacy.  No the people who first heard the story of Jesus and the cross heard it with a knowing ear and pained acknowledgment of oppression.

And so it has been throughout all of history.  Let us open another window.  For Jews this story is far too familiar.  There is not a century in the last 21 that has not known a story like this.  This story on Palm Sunday is particularly painful.  On Palm Sunday, the riled up people would leave mass and persecute their local Jews as part of a pogrom.  For them, the picture of another Jewish man being led away by a mob and killed is not foreign or bizarre.  It is a tragic legacy shared by God’s chosen people.

Let us open another window into the American south some 50 or 60 years ago, within the lifetime of many here.  A place where a young African-American man would be taken away with a sham trial for the capital crime of saying the wrong thing or merely looking the wrong way at the wrong time at the wrong person.  And as they led Jesus outside the gates of the city to be hanged on a tree, so they led these young men outside the city to lynch them on a tree.  For those people, families and communities that endured this terror, the story of the Passion does not seem bizarre or foreign.  It is a part of their history seared deeply into their story.

Let us open yet another window.  The Plaza de Mayo in in Buenos Aries stretches from the Presidential Palace on one side and the Cathedral on the other side.  And some mothers walk that plaza every day.  They are the Mothers of the Disappeared whose children were kidnapped by the military, killed and dropped into the sea by helicopter, mostly never to be found.  They walk so that no one forgets their children even as we read the Passion so that no one forgets the cross. Do you wonder where Pope Francis’ thirst for justice comes from?  He saw those women marching every day.  For them the Passion is not foreign or bizarre.  It is their story.  They are Mothers of Sorrow just as our Blessed Mother is.

Let us open another window, this one not in history.  This one might be just a couple of miles away.  It is anywhere where violence teems, where the “sin” that might cost your life is lingering on a street or wearing the wrong color.  Where one cannot presume to walk home safely in the middle of the day.  This story is not foreign or bizarre to them.  It is stark reality.

Finally, let us open a last window.  A window we might all need to see through.  For those who have suffered unimaginable loss, for those who have endured horrible pain, for those who have been broken, this ruptured picture of Jesus, beaten, humiliated, hated and hung is not bizarre and foreign, it is the window they look through all the time.  And like Christ, they do not relinquish the cross, but keep moving up the mountain step by step.

All who have suffered are following in the footsteps of Christ.  And he follows in theirs.  He knows this suffering; he has chosen it and he has embraced it.  Many ask why Jesus had to die in this cruel and brutal way.  Because if God is to be everywhere and for everyone, he needs to be on the cross and share the horrible experience of those considered most expendable, most innocent, most hurting and most oppressed.  This God of ours is the one who was not only exalted but humiliated, not only revered but hated, not only victorious but defeated.

And what does that matter?  Because he has walked that road, transformed it, loved it and redeemed it.  Our God is everywhere and for everyone.  His story is all of our stories.  And he will raise it all.