Friday, April 7, 2017

Crucifying the King

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion (A)

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Palm Sunday is unusual, not just because we have two gospel readings (one before Mass begins outside the church), but because of the contrast between the two. Some Sundays are given special names, such as Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday a couple of weeks ago. I like to call Palm Sunday the "Well That Escalated Quickly" Sunday.

We begin our celebration outside the church with a reading from Matthew 21, welcoming Christ into Jerusalem as a triumphant king. We shout, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"

Moments later we have the very long gospel reading of the Lord's Passion, recalling how Jesus was betrayed, arrested, tortured, executed and buried. We shout out, "Let Him be crucified!" The reading ends with a cold stone being rolled over the entrance to Jesus' tomb.

What a stark contrast.

We might leave Mass on Palm Sunday with our heads spinning, wondering how the people of Jerusalem could go from welcoming Jesus as a King to crucifying Him as a criminal in so short a time. But don't we do the same?

During our initial conversion, when we first come to embrace Christ as our Lord and Savior, we welcome Him into our hearts. We rejoice and hail Him as our King, with shouts of "Hosanna" (an ancient Jewish acclamation of praise). Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, who frees us from our sins! Hosanna!

But then what? Eventually we sin again. And by sinning, we once more join the crowds shouting "Crucify Him!" For this is the reason why Christ, who was innocent of all sin, had to die on the cross -- for our sins, yours and mine. Each time we sin we should think about the crucifixion and know that it is our sins that drove the nails into his hands and feet.

So what should we do? 

First of all, we don't give up. Because beyond the cross there is the empty tomb. Beyond death there is resurrection. Beyond sin there is forgiveness. Beyond condemnation there is mercy. 

Christ died on the cross for our sins, and if we have a compassionate heart at all, that should fill us with sorrow. Deep down we know that we are the ones who deserve to be punished for our sins, not Jesus. But it should also make us rejoice. It is a great mystery that sorrow and joy can coexist in Christianity. Jesus died for our sins on the cross, and this is good news. Because by so doing He has won our redemption and freed us from our sin. This is why it is a betrayal of Christ any time we choose to sin, because it is a rejection of that freedom He won for us, a freedom from sin.

So  we must learn to hate sin and avoid it at all cost - especially mortal sin. All sin is a failure to love as we should. We all fail in love in small ways throughout our lives, because even though we are redeemed we are not yet perfected. We are works in progress. God is still training us in holiness and that takes time. But some sins are so grievous as to be incompatible with love. These are mortal sins, and by committing these sins we cut ourselves off from God's divine life, which is love itself. So having accepted Christ as our King and welcomed Him into our hearts with shouts of "Hosanna," we should detest nothing more than the thought of evicting Jesus from our hearts by mortal sin.

But when we realize that we have turned away from God by falling into sin, we should immediately turn back. To repent literally means to "turn around." We turn away from our sin and turn back to God, seeking His forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation. Yes, your sin is why Christ died on the cross. Yes, this should cause you sorrow. But yes, it should also cause you to rejoice, because Christ died for all of your sins. Not just one. Not just a few. All of them. Even and especially the ones that you feel guilty about right now. Give them to Christ. He's already paid the price for them. Give them over to Him in the confessional and let Him take their burden off of your shoulders. This is, quite literally, what He came into the world to do. Let Him do it. 

It's really that simple. Strive to be faithful. But when you are not, repent and seek forgiveness. Then strive to be faithful once more. Do that, over and over.  As often as you fall, get back up again. As often as you sin, repent and seek forgiveness. Keep moving forward, following Jesus into Jerusalem, all the way to the cross. Because on the other side of that cross is eternal life and the joy of heaven. Let us follow together our Crucified King.


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