On this Holy Day, “Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord,” we celebrate the triumphal entry of Christ the Lord into Jerusalem, where he will accomplish the saving work of our redemption and then enter into his glory.
Jesus enters the Royal and Holy City of Jerusalem because he is truly its King – indeed, the true King who gives eternal life. Because he is the King, he rides on a donkey, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 that St. Matthew quotes in today’s processional Gospel: “Behold, your king comes to you, / meek and riding on an ass.” Yes, by riding on a donkey, Jesus makes a royal claim, but in a unique way. Unlike earthly kings, he is a King who is humble and meek. He tells us: “Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:28-30). Through his meekness, as a lamb who is obedient unto death on the Cross, he obtains life, peace, and victory for the whole world.
Today’s readings help us enter deeply into the mystery we celebrate throughout Holy Week. As Jesus made his way on the donkey into Jerusalem, pilgrims who were also going to Jerusalem were caught up in the enthusiasm of his disciples. Some of them spread their garments on the road for Jesus. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on his path, singing loudly, “Hosanna to the Son of David; / blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; / hosanna in the highest!” It is profoundly significant that included in the acclamation of the crowds is this verse from Psalm 118: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD” (v. 26.) By the time of Jesus, this Psalm formed part of Israel’s pilgrim liturgy, and had already acquired messianic overtones. It was seen as a prophetic description of the awaited King, the Messiah who would come to Jerusalem. Psalm 118 also indicates that the awaited King-Messiah was expected to be a priest who would ascend to the altar to offer sacrifice (cf. Ps 118:27). The large crowds welcomed Jesus as King, Messiah, and Priest – even though their expectations of how he would fulfill his mission were quite incorrect.
Jesus fulfills the prophetic nature of Psalm 118. He is the true King; he is the Messiah who comes in the name of the Lord; he is the one who goes to the altar to offer sacrifice. However, he will act as King, Messiah, and Priest in a manner that will disappoint many. He is not headed to the Jerusalem temple to sacrifice on the altar there. Rather, he is going to the altar of the Cross on which he will offer himself for the glory of God and for the salvation of the world. In the light of Easter, the early Christians took the acclamation with which the crowds welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday and adopted it to welcome the One who comes to us in the Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice. We still sing this very acclamation at every Mass, at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, with the Sanctus: “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”
We can now see that, while Jesus was entering Jerusalem, the earthly holy city, for the ancient Jewish Passover, his ultimate goal was the Heavenly Jerusalem. He had come to offer the Sacrifice of himself on the Cross as the New and True Passover Lamb which fulfills and supersedes the Passover of the Old Testament. He establishes the New Passover, the New Covenant with his Blood (cf. Mt 26:28). As our true and eternal High Priest, Christ is heading not to a man-made sanctuary in Jerusalem which is merely a shadow of the real one, but he is entering the real sanctuary, Heaven, in the presence of God (cf. Heb 9:24), where he will reign in glory as God with the Father. Hence, today’s second reading describes how his humble descent through self-emptying led to his exaltation in glory. Jesus has come to take us along with him to the glory of Heaven, our true homeland (cf. Phil 3:20). At Holy Mass, he makes present to us the merits of his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, and he opens for us the gates of Heaven.
His Passion started in the garden of Gethsemane where he was overwhelmed by the burden of the sufferings and sins of the whole world, which he took upon himself. We meditate on this in the First Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary: the prayer and agony of Jesus in the garden. His human nature recoiled from the unspeakable suffering that awaited him, and so he prayed: “My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” With this prayer, he submitted our reluctant and recalcitrant human will to the divine will and made it possible for us to obey God.
It is not by chance that Jesus endures his agony in a garden, and that he was crucified in a garden. This is where he chose to undo the sin that was committed in the original garden by Adam. Through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection in a garden, Jesus Christ the New Adam ushers in a restoration – a total renewal. His Death in the garden overcomes the curse of death and brings us life and every heavenly blessing. On our journey through Holy Week, we follow in the footsteps of the Lord, so that we may share in his Passover from death to new life.
During Lent, how has Jesus’ meekness and obedience unto death on the Cross instilled in me a greater love for him? How often in my daily trials and sufferings do I utter the words of Jesus, “Father, not my will but your will be done”? How have my Lenten observances prepared me to follow Jesus on his journey to Calvary?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.