On this Sunday the liturgy tries to capture two moods: the exultation of the crowds proclaiming Jesus as the king as he enters Jerusalem and the sorrow that comes from seeing Jesus dying on the cross abandoned by all his disciples. The mood of the liturgy quickly shifts from one mood to the other. As we recall the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, we raise our voices with the crowds who cry out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” But then as we listen to the reading of the Passion according to St. Mark, we imagine to the pain and suffering that Jesus endured as he made his way to Calvary. Not only was there physical pain, but also the sense of abandonment and so many other emotions he experienced. His sufferings were real. As a human being he experienced the strong emotions and physical pain of man who had been beaten and abused and was then led to execution.
As always, the Scriptures invite us to enter into the scene. A traditional form of meditation on God’s Word asks us to find our place in the scene. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What are you experiencing? How does it make you feel?
We can do that with this Sunday’s two gospel readings. Take some time to meditate on the triumphant entry to of Jesus into Jerusalem that we hear at Mass on Palm Sunday (Mark 11:1-10). Where are you in the story? Are you one of the disciples sent to fetch the colt? Are you bystander who just watches and wonders? Are you part of the crowd shouting “Hosanna”? How are you feeling as you witness this event? How does it impact you?
Now imagine also the long drama of the Passion according to Mark (14:1-15:47). It begins in Bethany with the scene of the woman with the alabaster jar who anoints Jesus’ feet with perfumed oil (not to be confused with Mary Magdalen). Can you smell the perfume that fills the room? How do you react to the bold action by the woman? Are you shocked like some disciples were? Would you react like Judas? The scene shifts to the Last Supper in Jerusalem. Watch everything that Jesus does. Listen to his words to the disciples. He is speaking them to you and me as well. We move with Jesus to Gethsemane. Do we stay awake and pray with him? How do we react to the arrival of the crowds with clubs and swords? Can you hear their loud shouts that disturb our quiet moments with Jesus? Jesus is led off to trial and Peter denies that he knows his Lord? How do we react to that? Could I be like Peter? Pilate sends Jesus off to be crucified because he was afraid of the crowds. He gives into their demands. Jesus dies alone and forsaken. “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
It would be well for us to give some significant time to meditating on these long and rich scripture passages. One hearing at Mass is not enough. We can go scene by scene and, in each case, try to find out place in that scene. What a wonderful way to begin Holy Week.
I am reminded of a homily I read one time. The priest wrote: The people who shouted “Hosanna! Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday were the same ones who five days later shouted “Crucify him, crucify him!” Let us prayerfully and honestly examine ourselves and find our place in the story of the Lord’s passion and death.