"As we enter any house through its door, so Jesus enters the 'house' of Holy Week through 'the door' that is Jerusalem, through the door that is Palm Sunday," Bishop O'Connell writes in his message as Holy Week begins.  Stock photo
"As we enter any house through its door, so Jesus enters the 'house' of Holy Week through 'the door' that is Jerusalem, through the door that is Palm Sunday," Bishop O'Connell writes in his message as Holy Week begins. Stock photo
Editor’s Note: Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., celebrated Mass on Palm Sunday, April 5, in St. Rose Church, Belmar. The Mass, which was livestreamed without a congregation, is available for viewing at any time.

The following is Bishop O’Connell’s message:

When building a house, the location of the door is a critically important part of the planning.  The door is the entrance way to the rest of the house.  It is the place from which a person gets a first glimpse and impression of what is inside.  Sometimes, the first impression is the lasting impression.

Today is Palm Sunday.  It is, liturgically speaking, the “doorway to Holy Week.”  As we enter any house through its door, so Jesus enters the “house” of Holy Week through “the door” that is Jerusalem, through the door that is Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday.  And, as His followers – a community of faith and belief in Him – we Christians enter “the door” with him into this holiest of weeks.            

But today, what we see from this door may be a bit deceiving: crowds cheering Jesus the King, palms and olive branches thrown before his feet, sung hosannas to the Son of David.  As we move through the “house of Holy Week,” however, we watch the environment change.  We get a different picture and impression. 

Jerusalem is the place where the Sacred Scriptures and ancient traditions tell us the great prophets went to die.  Soon, as the story of Holy Week unfolds, the crowds of Palm Sunday will turn ugly.  The cheers will become jeers.  The supporters abandon their palms and thin out.  Even the apostles scatter as Jesus walks the path to Calvary.  No more palms or olive branches.  No more hosannas.  Only shame, condemnation and spitting.  Where did all the “glory, laud and honor” go? 

“I gave my back to those who beat me,” Isaiah prophesied in today’s first reading. “My cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.  The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.”

Jesus didn’t need the applause and praise of the crowd … Jesus didn’t want it.  “Though he was in the form of God,” we hear in the second reading’s Letter to the Philippians, “He did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at … rather he emptied himself … obedient to death on the Cross  Therefore God exalted him.”  God … not the crowds.

From the “door” where we stand in the liturgy of Palm Sunday and through which we pass into Holy Week, we see Jerusalem.  We see the King enter.  We witness his passion.  And we suddenly realize that the house looks a bit different than what we first saw and thought when we entered the door.

My sisters and brothers, in the Lord Jesus Christ, ours is a God who is willing to suffer not only for us but with us.  There is no place in our humanity where God is not present: no pit so deep, no moment so dark, no sin so vile, no loneliness so wrenching, no experience so painful – dare I say it, no virus so widespread, so devastating, so isolating – that God has not already been present there, suffering and redeeming us! 

We may not get that perspective immediately on Palm Sunday but, then again, it is only “the door” and the beginning of the saving week that will follow.

The Lord Jesus Christ knows what we go through, understands and feels everything we go through – from inside our very humanity and human condition: the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1: 14) – and it is our humanity and every part of it that He brings through the door of Palm Sunday to the wood of the Cross.

“We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you because, by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.”