Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday

Today is Palm (or Passion) Sunday. We celebrate Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of the Paschal Mystery.

I think of how the crowds which cheered Jesus on Sunday just a few days later called for his crucifixion on Friday. In less than a week, Jesus went from hosannas to heckling. The adulation comes and goes. I think about how we are the crowds in both cases. We have eyes, but we do not see; we have ears, but we do not hear; we have minds, but we do not understand.

Sic transit gloria mundi - "thus passes away the glory of the world." This phrase was used during the procession of the papal installation, last used when John XXIII became pope. The pope would be carried on a chair (sedia gestatoria), and three times the master of ceremonies would say, Sancte Pater, sic transit gloria mundi ("Holy Father, thus passes away the glory of the world"). Three bundles of tow (fibers before being spun into yarn) were burned to demonstrate the fleeting nature of earthly honor. I am impressed that in the very midst of tremendous pomp and circumstance, the Church reminded the new pontiff not to be blinded by the trappings of his position. I think the papal procession makes for a good counterpart to Jesus' procession into Jerusalem. The sedia and the colt, the adulation and the rejection: the successors to Peter are called to follow in the footsteps of Christ, to wherever those footsteps lead.

At the Cincinnati archdiocesan seminary, there is a huge painting of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem just outside the seminary's chapel. My daughter was immediately taken by it when she first saw it. What strikes me about it is that the painting is so dark. For what is supposed to be a triumphal event, the dark paint seems to foreshadow the coming ordeal. It is as if the painting is looking forward to when, at his betrayal by Judas, Jesus says: "But this is your hour, and the power of darkness" (Luke 22:53). But we know that the darkness is not how the Paschal Mystery ends.

I remember years ago, before I returned to the Church, walking by a church on Palm Sunday as people were leaving the service (it was a Protestant church). It felt as though I was missing something. I felt that I was outside looking in, wondering what they have and should I want to have that too? I wasn't ready to come back, but I could see the road.

No comments: