Homily for Palm Sunday
March 21, 2016
Palm Sunday 2016 St. Dominic’s Monastery, Linden, Virginia J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Today we celebrate the exaltation and humiliation of the only-begotten Son of God in his humanity. For today Our Lord enters Jerusalem riding on a colt. On Good Friday he will leave Jerusalem behind—indeed he will be led out of the city, carrying a cross. Today’s entry is triumphal. “Ride on! Ride on in majesty” we sing. For Jesus enters Jerusalem as does a king. Claiming a king’s rights, he rides a requisitioned colt “on which no one has ever sat.” He is welcomed by “the whole multitude of his disciples [who] … praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen.” As for a king, the people spread their cloaks on the road as he approaches from Mt. Olivet, and they proclaim: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” The triumphal entry into Jerusalem fulfills the words of the prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and riding on a donkey” (9:9). Our commemoration of this entry expresses its triumphal character: “All glory, laud and honor to you, Redeemer King.” Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem reminds us of the victory processions of the ancient world when the populace hailed the return of conquering heroes after a successful military campaign. Yet today is different. Normally, the victory parade would take place after the battle is won, but Christ’s “last and fiercest strife” lies ahead. It is a battle still to be joined. Because we have been here before, we know that victory lies in the future. Our songs today anticipate the triumph of our glorious champion king. “Ride on! ride on in majesty! / Hark! all the tribes hosanna cry; / O Savior meek, pursue thy road / with palms and scattered garments strowed. / Ride on! ride on in majesty / In lowly pomp ride on to die; / O Christ, thy triumphs now begin / o’er captive death and conquered sin” (“Ride on, Ride on in Majesty,” Henry Hart Milman, 1820). No surprise then that, on Good Friday, Our Lord’s departure from Jerusalem will be an event in marked contrast to his triumphal entry. His royal title will be mocked not celebrated. The crowd that accompanies him will be weeping rather than cheering: “A great number of people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him” (Lk 23:27) for his “last and fiercest strife is nigh” (“Ride on” vs. 3). The angels “of the sky look down with sad and wondering eyes / to see the approaching sacrifice” (ibid. vs. 2). Lament rather than rejoicing will be on display. In the triumphal entry and the tearful leave taking, the eyes of faith discern one continuous journey from Mt. Olivet to Mt. Calvary, and beyond to the empty tomb. For the entry into Jerusalem marks the opening scene of the final act of the drama of our salvation. He who willed to be hailed as king, for our sake willingly allows himself to be led to the place where he takes to the Cross as a king to his throne. The humiliation of his being led out of the city only seems to erase the exaltation of his triumphant entry. Is not his humility already revealed in his majesty—the “Savior meek” who rode into Jerusalem “in lowly pomp” on the back of a colt? And does not the humiliation of the Cross conceal the exaltation of victory, the triumph “o’er captive death and conquered sin”? “Ride on! ride on in majesty! / In lowly pomp ride on to die;/bow thy meek head to mortal pain, / Then take O God thy power and reign.” My brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the humiliation and exaltation of the only-begotten Son of God in his humanity for our sake. “This whole mystery…was a dispensation of mercy and act of love. With such chains are we held bound that only by this grace can we be released. Condescension by the divinity therefore becomes our advancement” (St. Leo the Great, Sermon 52, 2) unto the glory of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Image: Jean-Leon Gerome, Entry of Christ in Jerusalem, 1897