Homily for Palm Sunday, Year A

+AMDG+

In view of the long Passion Narrative, I tried to keep this one short for the college crowd at St. Paul’s.  On the one hand, complaint about the brevity of homilies is rare.  On the other hand, as you can see below, it’s hard to include stories or examples in a shorter homily.  Grade: B.

I often find myself a little confused as to what to feel on Palm Sunday.

On the one hand, we sound a joyful note, playing the “crowd,” welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem with waving palms and enthusiastic acclamations–‘Hosanna to the Son of David, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.’

Playing the same “crowd” in the Passion Narrative, on the other hand, we find cause for sorrow.  We find ourselves rejecting the only one who loved us to the end:  We jeer—“Hail, King of the Jews”; we mock—“He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him”; we menace—“Let him be crucified.”  We ponder what part we here today—and, indeed, all Christians throughout the ages—have played in that sorry scene.

But the confusion of a joyful sorrow may not be all bad. St. Ignatius Loyola recommends that we, when praying about the events of Holy Week, ask God for confusion because for my sins the Lord is going to the Passion” [Sp. Ex. 203]  Confusion.  Not usually the attitude we associate with Christian discipleship.  Yet St. Ignatius presents it as the only fitting response to Christ over this coming week.

But this is, of course, not confusion in the normal sense.  This confusion is the response to a single staggering fact: that the God of the universe would come so close to us that we could lay hands on him and kill him.  That he would accept to suffer our cruel sport and to endure our desperate resistance to his love.  That he would pass through jaws of death and into the bowels of Hell—all so that we might have life.

In short, this confusion is the perplexity we feel when confronted with an offer that seems too good to be true.  This offer, mind you, is not the offer of cheap grace.  The cross calls to mind that sin is heavy–too heavy for us to bear.  But it also calls to mind that God’s love is weightier still.  That he will stop at nothing—absolutely nothing—to draw close to us, if only we will give him permission.

Sorrow leading to joy.  This is the confusion that Christ has come to sow.  This is the confusion that heals and saves.  This is the confusion of Holy Week.

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