Long Gospel, huh? Why does the Church have to have all this lengthy pageantry? Wouldn’t it be great to get back to the early simplicity of the first Christians? Actually – we are the ones doing the brief and simple liturgy. Our ancestors – they would literally spend the whole day honouring this day in prayer. The Peregrenatio Sylviae tells us how in the 4th century they got up at dawn to pray at tomb of the Resurrection, then had Holy Mass, then at one o’clock went to the Mount of Olives for two hours of prayers, readings and hymns, then went the place of the Ascension for another two hours, then at 5pm, just like us, they read the same Gospel, processed into the city carrying palms and chanting Hosanna, finishing, at sunset, with Evening prayer.
I think you know already the basic importance of this day: that in Jesus God is visiting his people to suffer and die for them in order to set them free.
But what has Jesus been doing just before he does this? It is very illuminating. He is telling the parable of the talents. And it’s very interesting the very last thing Jesus says. Do you remember? But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me. Interesting, isn’t it. He says this just before he descends on the donkey as the chosen anointed king of God over his people. His words are chilling – and useful:
- Firstly, because, like God in Eden, he is being merciful – warning us of the grave consequences of not sticking by him: certain eternal death.
- They are also a good motivator: we better appreciate how important our Christianity is – the Way out of the animal darkness of death.
But what is also interesting is the very next thing that happens after today’s Gospel. Because Jesus’ ride down the Mount of Olives is not all glorious. What is the very next line after our Gospel? And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it. On this Palm Sunday, Jesus sees the Church, loves us – and weeps over us. Over our stubbornness, our feral behaviour to others and ourselves, the extent we have allowed ourselves to be lost – and above all, our lack of love and gratitude to him. He doesn’t just weep because he’s hurt by this – he weeps also because of how stupid we are in saying no to Pure and Infinite Love, and how our decisions to live outside of him will cause us to suffer.
So instead of distracting us from the Gospel, these 2 bookends of the Gospel bring us right into the heart of the the mystery unfolding for us in these days: the unconditional love of God, his willingness to go to any extent, even public humiliation and death to save your soul – even if you want to reject it. And so the movement of Jesus this week, this is God’s question to you: look at what is happening. Look! How do you respond? Do whatever you want – with whatever the consequences are. But in the middle of the squalling darkness in which we live, God places himself, to have his reputation, and then his body, torn apart to save you. Does it mean anything to you? What decision do you make?