Have you ever stopped to think about the courage of Jesus as he set out for Jerusalem for the Passover celebration that was to culminate in his conquering sin and death by dying on the Cross and rising from the dead? asks Bishop Peter Ingham of Wollongong.
In that context, St John tells us that people “were looking out for Jesus, saying to one another as they stood about in the Temple, ‘What do you think? Will he come to the festival or not?’ The chief priests and Pharisees had by now given their orders: anyone who knew where he was must inform them so that they could arrest him.” (Jn 11:55-57)
So how come Jesus entered Jerusalem and was feted by the people waving palm branches? They shouted, ‘Hosanna, blessings on the King of Israel who comes in the name of the Lord.’ Jesus found a young donkey and mounted it: and as Scripture says, ‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Sion; see your King is coming mounted on the colt of a donkey.’ (Zech 9.9) At the time, the disciples did not understand this. (Jn 12: 13-16)
Is the donkey the clue to understanding what is going on?
Zechariah’s prophecy about the Messiah riding into Jerusalem on a donkey indicates that Jesus is really telling us he is the Messiah and what his mission will be about.
Riding into the Holy City on an animal of peace contradicted the then-current wrong idea that Jesus would be a political messiah, a warrior king subjugating conquered peoples.
On the contrary, Jesus is the one who kneels on the floor to wash the feet of his subjects; he rallies people to have a preferential option for the poor and the oppressed; his battle is against the forces of Satan which enslave people to self-indulgence, greed and power.
Jesus has come with mercy and forgiveness for the repentant sinner: “In truth I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Lk 23:43)
Jesus has come to invite people, not force them, to follow him “the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6) because without Jesus the Way, there is no going; without Jesus the Truth, there is no knowing; and without Jesus the Life, there is no real living. Jesus can fulfil our dreams in ways we cannot imagine.
Interestingly, the same crowd which shouted ‘Hosanna’ on Palm Sunday, was shouting ‘Crucify him’ by Good Friday. We humans can be so fickle, whereas Jesus is so constant with his mercy and forgiveness that flows from the love he has for each and every one of us.
May you and I take Jesus into our hearts this Holy Week as we journey with him, by means of the liturgy, through his courageous journey to Calvary for love of us. St Paul says, “If we share in Christ’s sufferings, we shall also share in his glory.” (Rom 8:17)
St Peter says “If you can have some share in the sufferings of Christ, be glad because you will enjoy a much greater gladness when his glory is revealed.” (1 Pet 4:13).
Again, Paul says “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is pointless and you have not, after all, been released from your sins.” (1 Cor 15:17)
Sunday’s procession with palms and olive branches is a symbol of us, the pilgrim people of God, moving on our journey to the heavenly Jerusalem.
You and I can make this journey to heaven precisely because of the suffering death and resurrection of Jesus who has gone before us to prepare a place for us.
Also, you and I can make this journey towards heaven because Jesus is making it with us. We are not doing it all on our own. (cf Phil 4:13)
Our procession with palm and olive branches shows we too recognise Jesus as our Messiah, the Prince of Peace. The branches are a sign of the glory and honour we give to Jesus, the Messiah whose Kingdom is about “truth and life, a Kingdom of holiness and grace, a Kingdom of justice, love and peace.” (Preface, Christ the King)
Have a blessed Holy Week.