26 March 2018
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Our Gospels today relate a circumstance we know all too well: when things are going well and you’re on top of the world, your friends are happy to be with you. But as soon as things go south, you are all alone. It’s like when you’re young and you have friends over to your house: they’re happy to be with you to have a good time, but as soon as you hear your parents say your first name followed by your middle name, all the sudden your friends scatter and it’s just you having to face what you know will be at least a stern talking to by your parent.
Death is something that is a part of life which makes us feel alone. Generally, no one else experiences it with us, even if there are people standing around us at the time of death. We can never experience death for another person. As much as we might sympathize, and as much as there are common factors, death will be a unique experience for each one of us.
So it makes sense, as Jesus dies on the cross, that He says, as we heard in today’s psalm, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Jesus, in His human nature, feels alone, abandoned by God, as He dies. He experiences everything we do, except without sin, including the individuality of dying. Of course, for Jesus, death is not part and parcel of His existence. Jesus is God, the source of life, Life Incarnate, so death is not merely something which makes so little sense, it is the antithesis of who Jesus is. Of course, God the Father does not truly abandon Jesus at the hour of His death, as Jesus truly takes up His cross, any more than God abandons us when we are faced with the cross. But Jesus feels like He is alone, as He empties Himself and dies on the cross.
The cross is the other place where we feel alone. When I say cross here, I’m talking about our suffering, our challenges, especially the ones that touch us at the deepest levels of our human nature. Whether it’s a big cross or a small cross to outsiders, each cross is heavy to the person carrying it, to the person dying on it. Carrying the cross, on the cross, is where the person feels alone, abandoned, perhaps even by God. The cross is the way that we, too, like Jesus, are invited to empty ourselves. Our pride tells us to hold on to ourselves, to puff up ourselves, but the cross is the great deflator.
Of course, we don’t have to carry or die on our crosses. We always have the choice to say no to the cross. But in saying no to the cross, we say no to the Resurrection. The cross empties us, as St. Paul talks about in the second reading. The cross humbles us. But in emptying us and humbling us, we finally have room for God, who will not leave us empty and debased, but will raise us up, just as He did for Jesus.
Because we are human, our tendency is to run away from the cross. We are afraid of its weight, and that God will abandon us as we carry it and die on it. The cross, which is also to say dying to ourselves, is painful. But it is the only way that we can allow God to raise us up, to conquer our sin and death and give us holiness and life. And God will not abandon us, even if it feels that way, when we suffer.
So I invite you not to abandon Jesus, just as He didn’t abandon you. All this week we have an opportunity to be with Jesus as He suffers, to tell Jesus with our actions that He is not alone. Come to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday night at 7 p.m. as Jesus institutes the Eucharist and the ministerial priesthood, and is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Come to our Good Friday Liturgy at 2 p.m., as Jesus dies on the cross, and to Tenebrae at 8 p.m., as He is laid in the tomb. Embrace Jesus’ Passion, Cross, and Death, so that you can share in His Resurrection.