I presented this reflection to my Lay Dominican group, the Mary Magdalene Chapter in West LaFayette IN. Due to social distancing, we met via conference call. I look forward to seeing my friends again soon!
Who is Jesus? This is the principle question we must ask ourselves and those we love. Who is this Jesus we follow and worship?
The readings for Palm Sunday give multiple answers to this question from many different people. As we all know the historical Jesus was extremely controversial. and as we see in this weekend’s readings and the entirety of Holy Week the answers some people give literally change in a matter of days.
We are all missing Mass very much this year in the midst of this pandemic. It’s a bit surreal to be preparing for the holiest of weeks while sitting in my cluttered home office. I am contemplating many ways by which I can keep this week truly holy. Preparing for this reflection has helped!
At the start of the Liturgy for Palm Sunday, we hear a passage from the 21st chapter of Matthew’s Gospel when Jesus makes his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. A large crowd greeted Jesus, spreading their cloaks on the road, cutting branches from the trees, waving them and actually calling out “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” They loved Him! They were excited to see him and to be near him. Many people who didn’t know about him were understandably alarmed. There was quite a lot of commotion in the city which was full of pilgrims. It is no wonder that many asked “Who is this man?” The joyful answer people gave was that Jesus was a prophet from Nazareth. So, while many did not yet know Jesus was their long awaited Messiah, they saw him as a good and holy man.
Later in the liturgy, in the reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians we read a powerful answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?” St. Paul tells the early Church, and us today, that Jesus “was in the form of God” yet he emptied himself, becoming like a slave. Jesus was so obedient to the Father that he willingly accepted death on a Cross. Who is Jesus? The Son of God who loves us more profoundly than we can ever grasp! Paul goes on to say, “because of this God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Oh how wonderful it is that Holy Mother Church gives us this particular reading on this solemn day! Paul’s letter is an urgent reminder of who Jesus is, and why this faith of ours matters so much. We must continue to bend our knees in prayer and confess with our tongues the Lordship of Jesus…even as we sit at home this week.
As we reflect upon the story of The Passion of Christ we see many people were no longer willing to say that Jesus was a prophet, let alone Lord. How quickly the crowd changed their mind and attitude towards Jesus. Cheers changed to anger in a matter of days. The very people who were shouting, “Hosanna in the highest” a few days earlier were now shouting, “Crucify him!” Each year when this passage is read and we in the congregation have to say the words, “Crucify him” I get chills and my eyes begin to well up with tears. It’s so painfully real every single year. The reality that my own personal sins were a part of that dreadful, tortuous crucifixion make it so I can barely breathe. As I read the passages of people mocking Jesus, laughing at him, saying “He should save himself,” I shudder a bit. I cringe because I know people near and dear to my heart who mock the name of Jesus. People who say, “If he was truly God wouldn’t he come down right now and cure us of this ridiculous pandemic? Wouldn’t he heal the sick right now? You say he is King and Lord? That’s laughable; it’s nonsense!” These mocking words spew out of many mouths of people I know and many who have a large public platform, and it breaks my heart.
But there is hope! (There is always hope for those who are in Christ!) When Jesus died, when he gave up his spirit, immediately the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two; the earth quaked, tombs were opened, bodies of those who had died were literally being raised. What an incredibly terrifying scene that must have been! Thinking of the centurion who was watching the entire scene, it seems he would likely have been there from the point of Jesus taking up his Cross, maybe even while he was being scourged. This man saw the ugliness of the Passion, and then witnessed first hand the literally earth-shaking response. And his response? “Truly this was the son of God.”
Our world has been crying out in many ways for something earth-shattering to wake us up! Many are demanding that God show Himself. Well, here we are, in the midst of a pandemic which has impacted public health around the globe, the economy, the lives of families, the heart of communities. Many people are fearful and despairing. I am not saying that I believe God is sending this virus to punish the world or to wake us up. I dare not claim to know the mind of God. But I do believe that God will not have this crisis continue without doing something incredible through it. People are searching for meaning in the madness, for purpose in the chaos. Talk about a mission field!
Today’s Scripture passages are a reminder to us as Dominicans how important our charism of preaching is. Every knee will bend and every tongue will confess, but they will not bend nor will they confess if they do not hear the story of who Jesus is. Countless people are going about their lives in a bit of a haze right now. Families with young children home all day, the kids can’t go to their friend’s house to play, many people are working from home with limited resources. Churches are closed, and we are unable to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, and we ask “How long Lord?” Holy Week could slip by unnoticed by much of the world. We as disciples of Christ must invite our family and friends into the great mysteries of this week. Drop the virus memes and toilet paper jokes! Pass along daily scripture reflections, sacred music, sacred art via social media, but also in text messages or hand-written notes. Foster an encounter with the immensity of God’s love, a love that was willing to die for me, for you.
St. Paul’s letter is telling us that there will come a day when everyone will know the answer to the question of who Jesus is; everyone in Heaven, on Earth, and under the Earth will know that Jesus Christ is Lord! Oh how I long for this day! I long for the day when everyone understands what we mean when we say Jesus is Lord. I long to see our Churches full again with brothers and sisters hungry for Word and Sacrament. I long to hear the conversion stories of people who once mocked our Lord, but who will one day say instead, “Truly He is the Son of God.”
Tell the story of Jesus, my friends. Tell it today, this week, always. May the stories we share, the witness we give, our service and prayers for the conversion of souls be united with St. Dominic and Our Blessed Mother.
To God be the Glory!