… being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
Philippians 2 – from the Epistle for Palm Sunday
[ The complete lessons for Palm Sunday can be found at:
If I had paid more attention in my liturgy class at seminary, I would have learned just when the reading of the Passion Gospel was begun in the life of the Church. If I did, I don’t remember. My mini-research tells me that the Passion from Matthew was read on Palm Sunday during the time of Pope Leo the Great in Rome (400-461). In the Eastern Orthodox churches, the concentration seems to be rather on the celebration of Jesus entering Jerusalem as a “king” … though One whose kingdom is “not of this World”.
I would suggest that it is unfortunate that somewhere along the line the heavy medieval emphasis on the suffering of Jesus has come to dominate, finding it’s highly psycho-neurotic cultural climax in Mel Gibson’s travesty movie - an exercise in gross masochistic violence - which completely (in my view) distorts the Gospel message.
Listening or participating in the reading of the Passion Gospel on Palm Sunday (and Good Friday, when John is read) is much better understood as a meditation on that which, in the Christian understanding, resides with life-giving power at the core of human existence and of the God Who represents all Life: namely, Love.
The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus in the Gospel story shows a human being who, “being found in human form … became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”, obedient to the path of Love which - so the Gospel proposes - leads to fullest, deepest humanity. The story of Jesus points to the reality that each one of us is a manifestation of Divine Love, and that when we are “found in human form” is called to find our true Self in a desire and longing and determination to die to all that is not Love. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ” …. which is to say that dying to what is less than Love, which always involves some measure of “suffering” but which always potentially contains the seed of joy and freedom, is the holy path to Life.
Of course crucifixion is a horrible death; no one denies that. But I do not think that this is where we are called by the Gospel to focus. God does not want us to wallow in the suffering. God wants us to let go of what causes suffering in this mortal life - the illusions, the self-delusions, the fear, the “false gods” - and embrace Love, strong, unconditional, unsentimental Love, and be resurrected to Life over and over and over again. The Buddha would say: Let go of the attachment to transitory things, which causes suffering; embrace Compassion, and you will be free to Live Fully.
As I participate in the Passion this Palm Sunday, I will try to join Jesus on the cross … try to let go of, “die to”, something that is not Love in my life, and be ready for a resurrection to New Life.