Palm/Passion Sunday, Year A
Palm/Passion Sunday, Year A
Today is Passion and Palm Sunday. It’s a day of many and varied complex colours, moods, and themes. As we focus on the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem for the last week of his life on earth; as we turn our attention to the story of his sufferings and death that he faced during that last week of his life; our hearts and minds and lives cannot help but be deeply touched with a complex mixture of joy and sorrow. When we ponder the Passion story as well as Psalm thirty-one today; we encounter the deep mysteries of what it means to be human; to be afflicted with utter despair and rejection; to suffer from every form of persecution—mental, emotional, physical and spiritual.
Of course, our psalmist originally, most likely was speaking of himself and his own experiences of struggles, sufferings, persecution, and abandonment when he composed this psalm. However, the meanings of any inspired writings never remain static and fixed—they continue to take on additional, new meanings and speak to peoples of every generation. That’s why it is quite likely that the people of Israel—both ancient and modern—may very well believe the words in today’s psalm were spoken directly to themselves personally and collectively, along with their particular circumstances. Indeed, in the history of the Jewish people, it is most likely that they have found great comfort and strength in the psalmist’s words as they faced: pogroms, expulsions, persecutions, and, most recently, the Holocaust, as well as terrorist suicide bombings, which dominate newspaper headlines these days.
However, as Christians reading this psalm of lament, we most likely think of the psalmist’s words as referring, first of all, to Jesus and his Passion during that last week of his earthly life. The psalmist’s graphic description of one’s entire being wasting away due to horrendous sufferings, rejection and persecution seems to parallel not only the lives of countless Jewish people down through the ages, but also the life of Jesus himself. Indeed, the psalmist’s words seem to epitomize everything that happened to Jesus during his last week on earth. He suffered everything from: heart-wrenching grief, endless weeping and sorrows affecting his entire health and well-being, a subject of scorn, horror, dread and fear, to be avoided, forgotten, abandoned, one who was broken by the hostility, plotting and scheming to take his life. Yet, in the face of all that, he remains faithful, he still continues to trust in God. He has this profound sense that his life is unfolding according to God’s destiny. Even in the face of his sufferings, persecutions, rejection and abandonment; as he faces his life’s end, notice that he does not pray for revenge towards his enemies and persecutors. Rather, his prayer is for deliverance—for the acceptance of his inevitable death. Then, beyond death, he prays for God’s mercy and grace, God’s saving and eternal love.
As we ponder the significance and meaning of Christ’s Passion and the words of our psalmist, do we not also see ourselves personally along with all of humankind participating in and experiencing these activities? Whenever we experience rejection, and abandonment by our peers, our friends and neighbours, our employers, employees, or governments, even other Christians, in whom we placed our deepest trust; do we not relive the psalmist’s words? Is Jesus not crucified over and over again whenever, and wherever the weakest, the poorest, the most abandoned and forgotten and persecuted continue to suffer and die here in Canada and around the world? Is Christ not crucified anew whenever and wherever the most innocent of children are sexually, physically, emotionally and spiritually abused and often marred for life? Is Jesus not suffering and dying each day as hatred, war and violence fill people’s lives completely? One could go on in this vein almost endlessly.
However, at the rock bottom, at the root of our lives and all of life, Jesus is there, God is there, the Holy Spirit is there to love and remain among us—yes even in our darkest, deepest times of suffering, rejection abandonment and death. How could we trust a God who would do otherwise? How is it possible to believe in a God who rejects us when we face life’s toughest trials and evils? NO! God is not “The Great Aloof Being” up there or out there somewhere in the most inner sanctum of the universe—protecting God’s Self from the ongoing Passion story of humankind. God is with us, in the thick of it all. One of the most profound examples of that that I’m aware of comes from Holocaust survivor, and author, Elie Wiesel. In his book Night, he tells the following story.
The SS hung two Jewish men and a boy before the assembled inhabitants of the camp. The men died quickly but the death struggle of the boy lasted half an hour. ‘Where is God? Where is he?’ a man behind me asked. As the boy, after a long time, was still in agony on the rope, I heard the man cry again, ‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice within me answer, ‘Here he is… he is hanging here on the gallows…” 1
Elie Wiesel is correct, God meets us, is with us in the most profound of ways in our sufferings and whenever we face the most horrendous of evils. Another insightful writer, A.J. Cronin, speaking through a priest by the name of Francis Chisholm in one of his novels, captures the truth of what our psalmist, our gospel evangelist, Elie Wiesel and countless other faithful people have known down through the ages, when he says: “One should remember that the defeated still have everything if they still have God.” 2 And I would add, The defeated still have God, because God has them—now and always, in suffering, in the face of indescribable evil and injustice, in life and in dying and death, at all times. That is Good News for everyone!