Father Koch: Passion Sunday directs our focus to the Cross

March 22, 2024 at 2:01 p.m.
Getty images
Getty images


Gospel reflection for March 24, Palm Sunday, the Passion of Our Lord

Even as the promised hope of the Resurrection looms over the week, as we think about the celebration of Easter ahead. It is the Passion and Death of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that is and ought to be the focus of our meditations this week.

Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem as a triumphant king, only to be scorned, betrayed, arrested, denied, tried, scourged and crucified before the week’s end. It is a whirlwind of emotions for his disciples, his mother, and those who stood on the periphery, and were yet drawn to him.

Jesus died on a Roman cross, a sort of gibbet, that loomed over the city of Jerusalem that offered a stark warning to all approaching the city that the Romans, ironically, enforced the Pax Romana with brutal force. Jesus was not the only one that day to die this cruel Death, and many thousands of others suffered as well at the hands of the Romans.

The Cross carries a variety of meanings, some of them negative. The medieval Crusaders painted crosses on their shields and armor. A hate group born in the late nineteenth century burned crosses on lawns, in front of churches and in public parks. The cross became again an instrument of hatred and torture, instead of the liberation from sin and the source of eternal salvation. The Cross affirms our freedom. It is the paradoxical sign of liberation from sin and Death.

It is death that demands our attention. As a culture we prefer not to think of death and we mask it in many ways. It is common now for people to gather, not for a funeral but for a “celebration of life.” Yet it is not eternal life that they celebrate, nor the promise of life to come. Rather, it is the celebration of this life -- to look back and to remember what was instead of what is to come.

As I write this, a dear friend lies close to the end of this life, and it is most fitting that she is undergoing her own passion even as we observe the rites of the Passion of our Lord. This past January, I attended the funeral for a priest friend with whom I had gone to college seminary, and again later for theological studies. He had been suffering for a few years and had time to reflect on his death. He composed a letter to those who attended his funeral. In this missive he wrote: “Allow me, though, this one favor, pray fervently for the cleansing of my soul. I want to plead your cause before the throne of God in the presence of that Communion of Holy Ones whose unbridled love and fullest passion is for the coming of the Kingdom of God. As I have prayed for you through the years, join me now and pray that the martyrs and angels, confessors and pastors might also plead my cause before the Sovereign Lord whose judgment I pray will be as merciful as just. I would be one of the Just, dear ones, please for me to the Lord that he might grant it soon.

“What tears might be shed at my mortal passing must be mingled with the firmest of hope that God who plunged me into human history and into your lives, the God who rinsed my Soul with His Very Spirit holds us all precious enough to be One Body even beyond mortal death -- one Body in Christ.” (Rev. William N. Seifert)

Jesus, as he prepares to die on the Cross pleads with his Father to allow the cup of suffering to pass from him, but surrenders himself to the will of the Father. Of course, Jesus knew this was his mission. Perhaps at his core was the sheer disappointment of having been rejected by his own. The word of mercy and love that he preached was rejected, and then spun into false judgment against him, fueled by sheer hatred. The very antithesis of what he preached. Each of us is called and challenged to take-up and carry our own cross. This is seldom only, but we know that we walk that way with Christ who continues to suffer with us on our journey.

The Cross must stand at the very center of our religious life, otherwise, the hope and joy that we experience on Easter is shallow.


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



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Gospel reflection for March 24, Palm Sunday, the Passion of Our Lord

Even as the promised hope of the Resurrection looms over the week, as we think about the celebration of Easter ahead. It is the Passion and Death of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that is and ought to be the focus of our meditations this week.

Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem as a triumphant king, only to be scorned, betrayed, arrested, denied, tried, scourged and crucified before the week’s end. It is a whirlwind of emotions for his disciples, his mother, and those who stood on the periphery, and were yet drawn to him.

Jesus died on a Roman cross, a sort of gibbet, that loomed over the city of Jerusalem that offered a stark warning to all approaching the city that the Romans, ironically, enforced the Pax Romana with brutal force. Jesus was not the only one that day to die this cruel Death, and many thousands of others suffered as well at the hands of the Romans.

The Cross carries a variety of meanings, some of them negative. The medieval Crusaders painted crosses on their shields and armor. A hate group born in the late nineteenth century burned crosses on lawns, in front of churches and in public parks. The cross became again an instrument of hatred and torture, instead of the liberation from sin and the source of eternal salvation. The Cross affirms our freedom. It is the paradoxical sign of liberation from sin and Death.

It is death that demands our attention. As a culture we prefer not to think of death and we mask it in many ways. It is common now for people to gather, not for a funeral but for a “celebration of life.” Yet it is not eternal life that they celebrate, nor the promise of life to come. Rather, it is the celebration of this life -- to look back and to remember what was instead of what is to come.

As I write this, a dear friend lies close to the end of this life, and it is most fitting that she is undergoing her own passion even as we observe the rites of the Passion of our Lord. This past January, I attended the funeral for a priest friend with whom I had gone to college seminary, and again later for theological studies. He had been suffering for a few years and had time to reflect on his death. He composed a letter to those who attended his funeral. In this missive he wrote: “Allow me, though, this one favor, pray fervently for the cleansing of my soul. I want to plead your cause before the throne of God in the presence of that Communion of Holy Ones whose unbridled love and fullest passion is for the coming of the Kingdom of God. As I have prayed for you through the years, join me now and pray that the martyrs and angels, confessors and pastors might also plead my cause before the Sovereign Lord whose judgment I pray will be as merciful as just. I would be one of the Just, dear ones, please for me to the Lord that he might grant it soon.

“What tears might be shed at my mortal passing must be mingled with the firmest of hope that God who plunged me into human history and into your lives, the God who rinsed my Soul with His Very Spirit holds us all precious enough to be One Body even beyond mortal death -- one Body in Christ.” (Rev. William N. Seifert)

Jesus, as he prepares to die on the Cross pleads with his Father to allow the cup of suffering to pass from him, but surrenders himself to the will of the Father. Of course, Jesus knew this was his mission. Perhaps at his core was the sheer disappointment of having been rejected by his own. The word of mercy and love that he preached was rejected, and then spun into false judgment against him, fueled by sheer hatred. The very antithesis of what he preached. Each of us is called and challenged to take-up and carry our own cross. This is seldom only, but we know that we walk that way with Christ who continues to suffer with us on our journey.

The Cross must stand at the very center of our religious life, otherwise, the hope and joy that we experience on Easter is shallow.


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


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