Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hosanna, Exclamation Point

Sunday, April 17, 2011
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion—A

Matthew 21:1-11 (Gospel at Procession with Palms)
Isaiah 50:4-7
Philippians 2: 6-11
Matthew 26:14 – 27:66 (Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ)

Today’s solemn liturgy seems to offer an odd mixture of jubilant anticipation and terrifying confusion. We begin by recalling Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem with his disciples, holding palm branches and proclaiming “Hosanna!” We end having proceeded through the events surrounding Jesus’ Passion, which concludes with the Son of God’s lifeless body sealed in a tomb. It is enough to make one’s head spin!

However, a certain measure of disorientation is perhaps necessary if we are to genuinely enter into the mysteries of this Holy Week. Profound clarity and renewed life can arise from momentary disorientation. Often, we need to be “distracted” to focus more clearly on the Truth underlying our daily lives, and then ask ourselves: “What is really important? How am I striving for it? Where do I go from here?”

As we ponder those questions, two points are worth consideration. First, as Pope Benedict XVI points out in his book (Jesus of Nazareth, Part II: Holy Week, The Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, 2011), the proclamation Hosanna, derived from an ancient Hebrew term basically meaning “God, save us!” (cf. Psalm 118:25), is a simultaneous expression of petition, praise, and hope all in one. Its reply, quite simply, is “Jesus,” which in Hebrew means “God saves.”

Secondly, the high point of today’s liturgy, just as it is at every Mass, is not Jesus’ death but the consecration and reception of his body and blood in the Eucharist: “This is my body, which will be given up for you.” What Jesus offers us in himself is LIFE, as recalled from his exclamation in last week’s Gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life.” God saves us through the death and resurrection of Christ.

Regarding this integral association of the Resurrection with the Eucharist, Pope Benedict writes, "The Day of Resurrection is the exterior and interior locus of Christian worship, and the thanksgiving prayer [at the Last Supper] as Jesus' creative anticipation of the Resurrection is the Lord's way of uniting us with his thanksgiving, blessing us in the gift, and drawing us into the process of transformation that starts with the gifts, moves on to include us, and then spreads out to the world until he comes."

You may also recall from last week God’s promise to Ezekiel: “I [will] open your graves and have you rise from them!” And so today, during the Passion from the Gospel of Matthew, we hear that at the same disorienting moment of Jesus’ death, “the earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised.”

Once again, profound clarity and renewed life can arise from momentary disorientation. Apparent defeat gives way to true victory.

That message’s exclamation point, which we celebrate next Sunday, is an everyday reality.

So, what is really important? How am I striving for it? Where do I go from here?

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