Gospel reflection for Palm Sunday, Passion of the Lord

The Jewish people at the time of Jesus were a pilgrim people. Reflecting their 40-year sojourn through the desert, it was the usual religious practice of the Jews to travel to Jerusalem as they were able for various feasts throughout the year. The primary feast for pilgrimage was Pesach, or Passover.

We know that Jesus also made the pilgrimages to Jerusalem as several mentions are made of his going up to Jerusalem for a feast.

It seems that, at least according to John’s Gospel that, Jesus would often stay with Lazarus, Martha and Mary in Bethany, about two miles from Jerusalem. From there he would walk with his disciples, crossing the Kidron Valley near the Temple precincts.

On this one particular Passover pilgrimage journey Jesus makes a somewhat unusual entry into the city. He rides a colt to the Temple precincts of Jerusalem. Here the crowds greet his arrival as though he was a conquering of a hero, and they act as though they are heralding him as the coming Messiah. Matthew tells is that there is a “very large crowd” gathered there, spreading their cloaks and waving palm branches as Jesus passes by. This is certainly enough of a scene for the authorities – Jewish and Roman – to take notice.

Over the next several days Jesus enters the Temple precincts on several occasions, where he teaches the crowds openly, challenges the pretenses of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and even upsets the money tables set outside the Temple treasury. The crowds seem confused at his ability to act so boldly as there are rumors that the authorities want to take measures to silence him. The crowds around him seem to grow, and he is attracting much interest. Secretly, however, the authorities are plotting to have him put to death, but they need to do so under the cover of darkness. When it goes down, it has to go down at night.

Yet, just a few days into the week, and just as the festivities of Passover have gotten under way, the authorities have seize the opportunity and he is arrested in the early hours of the morning, when no one is watching and no one can interfere.

Later that morning, on the day after Seder, when most of the Jews were still recovering from the night’s festivities, Jesus again processes through the streets of Jerusalem, this time carrying a cross, past the empty shops in the usually buzzing marketplace, on his way to Calvary. In just a few hours Jesus dies on a Roman gibbet, treated as a common criminal.

Christians have taken up the pious practice of following in the footsteps of Jesus, becoming a people of the pilgrimage. Throughout the Middle Ages the pious practice of making pilgrimages, even from the most distant corners of Europe to Jerusalem became common. Many of the magnificent Gothic Churches built in Europe throughout this period were built specifically as places of pilgrimage, and to be waystations for pilgrims on their way.

While many people today continue to make pilgrimages – to the Holy Land, Rome, Lourdes, Fatima, and other magnificent shrines throughout the world, even in our own country, Palm Sunday and the Triduum offer each one of us a chance to walk this journey with Jesus and to make a pilgrimage of faith.

We observe three moments of procession: On Palm Sunday we open by carrying palms, greeting the Lord, and proclaiming him as Messiah. Thursday we walk with Jesus from the Upper Room to the garden as the priests leads us in the Eucharistic procession to the Altar of repose. There we not only walk with him, we rest with him in solemn adoration, awaiting the events of the day to follow. Our pilgrimage reaches its climax as at the Easter Vigil we walk in the Solemn Entrance following the lighted Paschal Candle into a yet dark church, awaiting the proclamation of the Exsultet and the beginning of the Easter Season.

The private devotion of the Stations of the Cross, prayed perhaps more intensely during Holy Week, emphasize the tortuous walk with Jesus on that Friday morning.

Here we not only remember the past, we embark on a symbolic journey with the Lord in our life of faith. His walk, is our walk; we are called to make this walk each day of our lives. 

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.