Palm Sunday starts with the reminder of the triumphant procession of Jesus into Jerusalem. He knows he is going to his death yet he goes forth boldly and fearlessly, ready to face what ever is the will of the father. He comes riding on a donkey and people wave palm branches and welcome him. Usually a victorious king would come riding on a charger, a war horse, the symbol of battle, the Lord comes on a donkey, he is not going to overthrow with power, He is going to overcome by choice, by obedience by submission unto death. At the same time, Jesus is not doing this for public approval, to impress the rabble. He does not rely on public approval. The same crowd that cries 'Hosanna' will cry out a little later: 'Crucify Him!'
The first reading points out to us the humble attitude of the Suffering Servant. He is not one who will defend himself. To be a Christian is to be a person marked by the sign of the Cross. For some of us there will be mental agony, for others physical pain and for still others spiritual desolation. We cannot escape the Cross. What is our attitude to the Cross that comes our way? Without faith suffering is meaningless and pointless. Faith does not make suffering vanish from our life but gives us the assurance that He is there with us every step of the way. He does not talk for or about himself. He is the silent one. While he is the first to stand for justice for others he does not demand justice for himself. When we feel we are unjustly condemned how quick we are to hit back, to defend ourselves, to retaliate. Silence is seen as weakness and we feel we have to be aggressive; we have every right to defend ourselves. The innocent one is silent!!! There are times when Truth needs no defence!
The will of God
There is a story about an old man who lived in a small town. He had been an 'Uncle John' figure to countless young people. He taught them to hunt and fish. He was greatly loved. He owned a small piece of land, and continued to live there alone after his wife died. One day it was discovered that a valuable strain of copper ran right through his property. The old man had no use for money; all he wanted was to stay in the only home he had known. Finally the businessmen threatened him with lynching. At the appointed time, these leaders showed up at his front porch. The parish priest was there with 'old John'. The parish priest stepped forward and said: "John knows that he is going to die. He has a last will and testament that he wants me to share with you. He gives his fishing rod to Pete, because he remembers the first bass Pete caught with it. He wants his rifle to go to James, because he remembers teaching him to shoot." Item by item, the old man gave back in love to those who would kill him. The people left one by one. Then the old man's grandson asked, "What kind of will was that, Grandpa?" The old man replied, "The Will of God, son." ?
John Pachapilly in 'The Table of the Word'
In today's reading of the passion and death of Jesus, we listen to Luke's testimony in clear language telling us about Christ's suffering. We cannot read these texts without feeling invited to share Jesus' suffering and also his complying with the will of the Father. The Gospel describes to us in details the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. From the path that marked his joyous entry into Jerusalem, he now walks the path that will lead to his death but ultimate victory. We could look at the passion of Jesus Christ from three stand points, three types of suffering that Jesus underwent and we experience as well: mental agony, physical suffering, and spiritual desolation. Jesus experienced mental suffering in the garden of Gethsemane. He knew he would suffer much and humanly speaking he felt the whole experience of desertion by his followers and disciples, betrayal by his very own, the misunderstandings of the religious authorities and the condemnation to a shameful death even before it happened. It was frightening and He sweated blood just thinking about it. "Father if it is possible take this suffering away from me, yet not my will but thine be done." All of us have sometime or another experienced mental suffering so we can all relate to what Jesus underwent in his mental agony. In time of mental suffering, often the only comfort we have is the knowledge that Jesus suffered mentally before us and is now supporting us in our hour of trial. In every Cross and trial there is Christ, even if we do not see or experience him. Secondly, Jesus suffered physically. He was brutally beaten, crowned with thorns, forced to carry the cross to Calvary and ultimately nailed on it and died on it. Again we can all relate to physical pain. We have all experienced it, some more than others. In time of physical sufferings often the only comfort we have is knowing that Jesus suffered the same way and is now supporting us in our hour of trial. Finally, Jesus suffered spiritually. After having endured the mental agony and the physical tortures as he hung on the cross there was that one moment when he felt that even God had abandoned him. That perhaps was the worse suffering. Where was his father when he needed his consolation and support? It seemed that even his father had deserted him, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" Again, we can all relate to spiritual sufferings. There have been times when all of us have felt abandoned by God. To be a Christian is to be a person marked by the sign of the Cross. For some of us there will be mental agony, for others physical pain, and for still others spiritual desolation. We cannot escape the Cross. What is our attitude to the Cross that comes our way? Without faith suffering is meaningless and pointless. Faith does not make suffering vanish from our life but gives us the assurance that He is there with us every step of the way. "If you wish to be my disciple, take up your cross and follow me."
Film: The Passion by Stephen Shanks
Some years ago I came across a short video film entitled "The Passion" by Stephen Shanks. What was unique about this ten-minute presentation of the passion was the fact that the same person played all the roles in the passion. He was Judas and Jesus and Peter and Pilate and the high Priest and ... ?What is the point the presenter is putting forth? In life we all play different roles all the time. There is the saint and the sinner in every one of us. We like to believe that we are not like the rest, that we are better people, that we are different. In all humility we have to accept our weaknesses and our strengths, our moments of grace and our moments of sin.
Your special cross
The young man was at the end of his rope. Seeing no way out, he dropped to his knees in prayer. "Lord, I can't go on," he said. "I have too heavy a cross to bear." The Lord replied, "My son, if you can't bear its weight, just place your cross inside this room. Then, open that other door and pick out any cross you wish." The man was filled with relief. "Thank you, Lord," he sighed, and he did as he was told. Upon entering the other door, he saw many crosses, some so large the tops were not visible. Then, he spotted a tiny cross leaning against a far wall. "I'd like that one, Lord," he whispered. And the Lord replied, "My son, that is the cross you just brought in."
The passion lamentation
A few years ago I was giving a Scripture workshop on the Beatitudes. "Blessed are they who mourn" provided the occasion to reflect on the laments of the Old Testament, which formerly marked the solemn celebration of Good Friday at the Tenebrae service. With the help of a sensitive young liturgist, we put together an evening prayer of lament, modeled on the standard prayer that chose lament psalms and readings. In place of petitions we asked people to utter simple prayers such as "I grieve over..." or "I lament ..." each utterance was followed simply by prayerful silence -no requests for help, no expressed hope that it would come. Suppressed grief and frustration over the reign of evil in our world echoed through the chapel. There was a sense of Christ praying in us during the waning hours of the day. Participants said it was one of the most moving and healing liturgies they had experienced. - The sufferings of Jesus remind us that his followers will also walk to many Calvary's. In a haunting lament our African-American brothers ask us if we were there "when they crucified my Lord." The passion narratives allow us to express abandonment, but assure us no one need tread the wine press alone.
John Donahue in 'Hearing the Word of God'
Marked for death
Voltaire was the 18th century French atheist philosopher. All his life he openly proclaimed and preached atheism. He was a very brave and outspoken critic of religion. But when he neared his death, he started shivering and shuddering. He said to the doctor attending him, "I'll give you half of what I am worth if you give me six months of life." His doctor said, "Sir, you cannot even live for six weeks." Then Voltaire despairing said, "Then I will go to hell and you will go with me." Later, he died in despair. The prospect of his death shook his convictions and composure. -Jesus was marked for death. The Jews were fond of marking people for death. Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel had marked Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas -the terrorist group and Yasser Arafat for death. But why was Jesus marked for death? He did not kill anyone; in fact he taught even his disciples to love their enemies and pray for them. He was the advocate of love, yet the Jews had marked him for death. Jesus knew that he was marked for death, yet he was not afraid of death. He marched towards it. He had a mission in his life and that was to save the world through his death. All people in this world are born to live, but Jesus was born to die. But for Jesus it was a goal he was pursuing. Although, He knew that he would be killed in Jerusalem, still he marched towards his death triumphantly.
John Rose in 'John's Sunday Homilies'
Who is Jesus to you and me?
H.G. Wells, the British historian and novelist, was a non-Christian. To him, Jesus was no more than the world's greatest teacher. He held Jesus in great esteem, but would not make a personal commitment to him. To C.S. Lewis, British theologian, this was both strange and unacceptable. He felt Wells, evaluation of Jesus was inconsistent with his belief. Lewis thought if Wells had such a personal admiration for Jesus, why could he not make a personal commitment? Jesus is surely far more than a great teacher -he is the son of God, he is God made man, he is our Lord and Saviour. To quote C.S. Louis, "When it comes to Jesus, you can't have your cake and eat it too - there is just no room for a compromise. Only four choices are open to you. Jesus was either a fool to be pitied, a mad man to be shunned, a devil to be stoned, or the Lord to be adored." ?Very rightly and wisely, each and every one of us has opted for the last - we respectfully and gratefully honour Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
James Valladares in 'Your Words O Lord, Are Spirit, and They are Life'
1. When The Cheering Stopped
Some years ago a book was written by Gene Smith, a noted American historian. The title was "When The Cheering Stopped." It was the story of President Woodrow Wilson and the events leading up to and following WWI. When that war was over Wilson was an international hero. There was a great spirit of optimism abroad, and people actually believed that the last war had been fought and the world had been made safe for democracy.
-------------------------2. President Wilson in Europe after the War:
On his first visit to Paris after the war Wilson was greeted by cheering mobs. He was actually more popular than their own heroes. The same thing was true in England and Italy. In a Vienna hospital a Red Cross worker had to tell the children that there would be no Christmas presents because of the war and the hard times. The children didn't believe her. They said that President Wilson was coming and they knew that everything would be all right.
The cheering lasted about a year. Then it gradually began to stop. It turned out that the political leaders in Europe were more concerned with their own agendas than they were a lasting peace. At home, Woodrow Wilson ran into opposition in the United States Senate and his League of Nations was not ratified. Under the strain of it all the President's health began to break. In the next election his party was defeated. So it was that Woodrow Wilson, a man who barely a year or two earlier had been heralded as the new world Messiah, came to the end of his days a broken and defeated man.
It's a sad story, but one that is not altogether unfamiliar. The ultimate reward for someone who tries to translate ideals into reality is apt to be frustration and defeat. There are some exceptions, of course, but not too many.
It happened that way to Jesus...----------------------------
3. Debtor's Prison:
One of the most gruesome, hopeless places in early nineteenth century England was "debtor's prison." Charles Dickens described it, but thousands of England's poor lived it first-hand. Everything the debtor owned was confiscated. Nothing was left. If any debts still remained, debtors were imprisoned until the balance owed could be paid. Which, of course, could never be, because the debtor was locked up. It was a situation without hope.
That was "civilized" nineteenth century England. But according to ancient Jewish law, there were moral limits on what could be demanded in payment for debts. Among those things that were legally "off-limits" was a person's most important piece of clothing, their "cloak." Less substantial garments could be held as collateral. But a person's cloak was considered to be in a category by itself. A cloak offered warmth and protection. It provided modesty, shielding nakedness. A cloak doubled as clothing and shelter, functioning as haberdashery by day and as a bedroll by night.
You could take a lot in payment for debts, but you could not take the cloak off someone's back.
But a cloak could always be OFFERED. Sir Walter Raleigh legendarily swept his cloak off his shoulders and flung it over a mud puddle so his Queen's foot would not be dampened. In today's gospel text cloaks were offered for theological, not meterological reasons.
As Jesus prepared to enter into Jerusalem proper, he intentionally "changes things up." The Galilean ministry is at an end. The time for keeping a low profile is over. It is a new messianic moment. Jesus had announced to his disciples the fate that awaited "the Son of Man" once he entered into the city of Jerusalem. As Jesus crossed into Jerusalem the Calvary cross already stood before him. He chooses to embody the image of the humble king, the meek Messiah, riding on a small and simple donkey. Jesus moves into Jerusalem with obedience and humility. Symbolically his back is already bared, readied for the cruelties and sacrifices that await him...
___________________________4. There Is Still Hope
The reality is that, if we figure to survive in this world, we had better have hope. The ancients knew that. Do you remember Pandora? Mythology has her as a lady endowed with every charm...the gift of all the gods. She was sent to earth with a little box which she had been forbidden to open, but curiosity finally got the better of her...she lifted the lid and out from that box escaped every conceivable kind of terror. Pandora made haste to close the box up again, but it was too late. There was only one thing left...HOPE. That was the ancients' way of saying how important hope is. Even when all else is lost, there is still hope.
This was what had sustained the Israelite faithful from generation to generation. This was what energized the crowd along Jesus' parade route that day.
David E. Leininger, Sunday's Coming!_________________________________
5. Palm Sunday - Who Is That?
Picture Fifth Avenue in Manhattan--the stretch of road where the Macy's parade is held each Thanksgiving Day. Imagine that one spring day a kind of makeshift parade is being staged along upper Fifth Avenue near Central Park. But this is not the Macy's parade, not by a long shot. This is a relatively small affair: no floats, no tickertape, no giant balloon figures floating down the street. It's just a crowd of people waving some tree branches and throwing their coats into the road. At the center of it all is a modest, average looking fellow astride a donkey's colt which actually is too small for him to ride with any kind of dignity.
But the members of the parade entourage are nothing if not jubilantly excited. Especially the kids are making a lot of noise, singing and shouting. The enthusiasm of this little crowd is enough eventually to attract some attention. The people standing on the plushly carpeted steps leading into the Plaza complex swivel their heads. The horses hooked up to Central Park carriages turn a lazy eye toward the parade even as the people in the carriages peer out past the canopy to see what the commotion is all about. Shoppers coming out of Saks Fifth Avenue and the Time Warner Center also start to glance around to discover the source of all the hubbub. And inevitably people begin to ask, "Who is that?" In reply the branch-waving, coat-tossing folks excitedly answer, "Who is this, you ask! Why, it's Joshua Jones, a preacher from North Platte in Nebraska!"
"Oh. So it's not Donald Trump? Not Tom Cruise or Katie Couric, not Bill Clinton? Joshua Jones from Nebraska? Oh. That's nice." But then eyes roll, eyebrows rise, and smirks are repressed as the big city folks go back to their big city business.
Granted that Jerusalem circa 30 A.D. was not New York City. Granted that maybe Jesus' name on that Sunday long ago was a little bit better known than the Joshua Jones in my analogy. Granted, and yet . . . there is something about Matthew 21 which bears resemblance to this allegorical story. "Who is that?" the Jerusalemites ask in verse 10. In verse 11 comes the reply: "Jesus, the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee."
Scott Hoezee, Comments and Observations_________________________________
6. Save Us
When we wave our palms and boldly cry out, "Hosanna," do we dare imagine what we really want God to save us from? Save me from anger. Save me from cancer. Save me from depression. Save me from debt. Save me from the strife in my family. Save me from boredom. Save me from getting sent back to Iraq. Save me from the endless cycle of violence. Save me from humiliation. Save me from staring at the ceiling at three a.m. wondering why I exist. Save me from bitterness. Save me from arrogance. Save me from loneliness. Save me, God, save me from my fears.
In viewing Palm Sunday from that angle, we can begin to see the potential for some real depth in this celebration, for embedded in our quaint pageantry is an appeal to God that originates in the most vulnerable places inside of us; and it bubbles, almost beyond our control, to the surface. "Hosanna." "Save us." Please God take the broken places that will tear us apart and make them whole. We beseech you, God, jump into the water and drag our almost-drowned selves to shore. "Save us." "Hosanna."
Scott Black Johnston, Save Us___________________________________
7. Power through Love
Back in our early seminary years Janice and I visited one of her aunts and uncles in Pennsylvania. The uncle had been a car dealer much of his life, and had always wanted a Lincoln Continental, the height of luxury in a car thirty years ago. We were going out to dinner together, and as we walked to the garage he somewhat sheepishly told us about his recent purchase. And then, rather apologetically he asked, "Did you ever want something so much, and then when you got it, wondered why in the world it had been so important to you?"
Might that not be akin to the reaction of many in the Palm Sunday crowd? They recognized something special, something unique, about Jesus, but Jesus does not fit their preconceived notions of how the Messiah ought to act. They do not know what to make of one who, in spite of a commanding presence, talks not of power through force, but the power that comes through emptying oneself, taking the form of a servant, dying to self in order to find genuine life. The crowd does not know what to make of one who embraces a different kind of peace - the peace that comes from recognition that love, and love alone, can meet and master greed and lust and hatred. The crowd little knows what to make of one who challenges us to embrace a love so potent that, in place of vengeance, we can turn the other cheek and go the extra mile in relationships. Jesus speaks of a love so powerful that it can lead us to face the full fury of hatred and enmity with the prayer, "God, forgive them, for they do not understand what they are doing." It is a love so transforming that it empowers us to confront life - and death - with a spirit of trust: "Gracious God, into your hands I commend my spirit."
Joel D. Kline, What Did We See in Jesus?
_________________________8. Creating Turmoil
In his book, The Freedom Revolution and the Churches, Robert Spike recalls an incident from the early years of the turbulent civil rights movement. Flying out of Jackson, Mississippi, Spike overhears the conversation of a Catholic sister, sitting across the aisle from him, with her seat companion. The sister is lamenting all the unrest in Mississippi, and she complains about the "outside agitators," the students and church leaders who have come to her state in support of civil rights, certain that their presence is provoking violence on the part of white racists. "I do not question their dedication, nor even the rightness of their position," said the sister. "But surely it is a bad thing to create turmoil by stirring up people who feel differently." As the sister talks, all the while she is nervously fingering a cross hanging around her neck.
There's a tragic irony in the sister's words and actions, not unlike that of the first Holy Week. For the one whose cross the sister holds most dear, Jesus, would never have taken the risk of going to Jerusalem and proclaiming a new way of living, would never have confronted comfortable patterns and ultimately endured the cross, had he followed the sister's philosophy.
Joel D. Kline, What Did We See in Jesus?_________________________
9. The Tomb Is Easier than the Cross
In just a matter of days Holy Week takes us from the mountain of festive palms to the mountain of Golgatha's despair. And that is why we resist it so. I mean, do we really need the emotional rollercoaster of Holy Week? What's so wrong with just jumping from one parade to the next and skipping all the sacrifice and death stuff? What's wrong with simply moving on to the joy of Easter, with its white bonnets, Easter eggs, family, friends, big ham dinner, and of course the empty tomb.
Well, I think we know the answer to that. For starters, an empty tomb, at face value, is a lot easier to deal with than a dying, bleeding Savior on a cross. Add to that all the pain and suffering that comes with Holy Week, is it any wonder that the human tendency is to try and ignore the events of the week and simply move on to the Easter celebration? But as much as we'd like to skip Holy Week we know that the only way to Easter is through the cross. We know where the parade of Palm Sunday leads and we also know that we're part of that parade. That is to say, we know this intellectually. Our hearts are another story. Our hearts may be more in sync with the disciples and the fear and disbelief that led them to run away. It would seem that 2000 years later Jesus' disciples are still running away.
Jeffrey K. London, And When You Think It's All Over__________________________
10. Walking the Walk
Christ's commitment reminds me of a Japanese social worker who lived before and during the Second World War named Toyohiko Kagawa. Kagawa was a devout Christian whose faith caused him to have an extraordinary impact on the working conditions of ordinary citizens in Japan. He was so well thought of in that land that he came on a mission to the U.S. before the beginning of the Second World War to seek to prevent that terrible conflict breaking out. Even though he failed in this effort, he gained international renown for his Christian witness and selfless work.
Years later Kagawa was on a lecture tour to the United States. Two college students were walking across their campus after hearing him speak. One of them confessed that he was disappointed in Kagawa's simple message.
After some reflection, the other student replied: "I suppose it really doesn't matter very much what a man says when he has lived as Kagawa has lived."
That is true. In today's vernacular, it is more important that Kagawa walked the walk and not just talked the talk. A consecrated life is far more eloquent and convincing than any well thought out argument. The world will not accept the way of Christ because we can out talk our spiritual opponents, but only because we can out live them. Such a demonstration of the superior quality of our faith will verify our witness more readily than any other effort in which we can engage. Kagawa did that superbly. His life, however, was simply a reflection of the life of his Master.
Jesus walked the walk more perfectly than anyone who has ever lived. He lived out the ethic which he taught. He was totally committed to doing his Father's will. He was a man of courage. He was a man of commitment.
___________________________11. What Is Good For Us Is Hidden
Martin Luther often spoke of this aspect of the theology of the cross, concerning how God works in a hidden way through contrasts. In a series of lectures that Luther gave in 1515 and 1516 on the Book of Romans, he wrote: "For what is good for us is hidden, and that so deeply that it is hidden under its opposite. Thus our life is hidden under death, love for ourselves under hate for ourselves ... salvation under damnation, heaven under hell ... And universally our every assertion of anything good is hidden under the denial of it, so that faith may have its place in God, who is a negative essence and goodness and wisdom and righteousness, who cannot be touched except by the negation of all our affirmations."
Martin Luther had one more observation about why God operates this way - under contrasts and opposites. In another of his sermons, he put it this way: "He thrusts us into death and permits the devil to pounce on us. But it is not his purpose to devour us; he wants to test us, to purify us, and to manifest himself ever more to us, that we may recognize his love. Such trials and strife are to let us experience something that preaching alone is not able to do, namely, how powerful Christ is and how sincerely the Father loves us. So our trust in God and our knowledge of God will increase more and more, together with our praise and thanks for his mercy and blessing.
Otherwise we would bumble along with our early, incipient faith. We would become indolent, unfruitful and inexperienced Christians, and would soon grow rusty."
_____________________12. Passion Sunday: Surprising and Inevitable
At a pre-concert lecture, the conductor of a symphony orchestra was telling the audience about the major work that the orchestra would be performing at that evening's concert. The conductor told the people that if they listened carefully to the music, they would discover that it was both surprising and inevitable. On the one hand, the musical score would take a fair number of rather jarring and unexpected twists. There would be points in the concert when the blare of the trumpet or the sudden rolling of the timpani would seem to come from out of nowhere in a surprising fashion. On the other hand, however, the conductor noted that in the long run, these surprises would themselves become part of a larger coherence. Once listeners heard the entire piece from start to finish, they would find in the music an air of inevitability--how could it ever have been written any differently?
Surprising and inevitable...-------------------------------------
13. Two Teenagers:
This poor man lucked out with neither of his sons. He loved them both and they both were goofs. The first was too wild, the second was too rigid and nasty. Neither one appreciated their father’s love. Both tried to exploit him. What’s more he knew they were exploiting him.
This is not a story of a prodigal son, but of an indulgent father, indeed of a hyper-indulgent father. Note that he runs to meet the first son and cuts off his phony speech. Note too that he is incredibly patient with the mean-spirited and ungrateful second son. This story is not supposed to provide a model for family life. Rather it tells us that God loves us like the indulgent father, so much that my human standards, he’s quite over the top.
Once there were two teenagers whose parents went away for the weekend. As some teenagers do, they decided they would have a party. You know the rest. A couple hundred people showed up. They drank all the family liquor, trashed the house, tore up the garden, wrecked the family cars, burned down the garage, smashed the windows in the neighboring homes, rioted when the police came, and even threw beer cans on the rectory lawn (Really!).
When the parents came home to find the National Guard patrolling their streets, they said to their children, “You shouldn’t have done that.” Why not, said the kids. You went away it’s your fault, not ours. You should have never trusted us.
But the parents love their children so much that they weren’t angry at them.
That’s the way God love us.
-------------14. A BOY WAITS FOR THE BUS
There's an old story of the boy who stood on a sidewalk, waiting on a bus. A man walking by spotted the boy, and gave him some gentle instruction. "Son," he said, "if you're waiting on the bus, you need to move to the street corner. That's where the bus stops for passengers."
"It's OK," said the boy. "I'll just wait right here, and the bus will stop for me."
The man repeated his argument, but the boy never moved. Just then, the bus appeared. Amazingly, the bus pulled over to where the boy stood, and the child hopped on. The man on the sidewalk stood speechless. The boy turned around in the doorway and said, "Mister, I knew the bus would stop here, because the bus driver is my dad!"
When you've got a family relationship with the bus driver, you don't need a bus stop. If your mother is a US Senator, you won't need an appointment to slip into her office. If you've given your heart to the King of Kings, you're in a royal family of unspeakable proportions.
Young Harold had a really bad case of Attention Deficit Disorder. On Palm Sunday, Harold’s Sunday School teacher sent empty plastic eggs home with each of her students. Mrs. Wilson told them to bring something back in the eggs next Sunday to represent Easter. She really didn’t expect Harold to bring anything, because he never listened in class. The next Sunday her children brought their eggs back. Susan had a pretty spring flower inside her egg. Joey had a little cross in his egg. Jackie had put a plastic butterfly in her egg. But, just as Mrs. Wilson suspected, there was nothing in Harold’s egg. She was surprised that he even remembered to bring it back! She had praised each of the other children for what they brought, but she didn’t say anything about Harold’s empty egg. Harold looked at her with anticipation and said, "Mrs. Wilson, you didn’t say anything about my egg!" Mrs. Wilson said, "But, Harold, you don’t have any reminder of Easter in your egg." Harold replied, "Uh-huh! It’s empty just like Jesus’ tomb!"
----------------------15. John Singer Sargent at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts
I attended a wonderful exhibition of the works of John Singer Sargent at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. It went on for rooms and rooms. There seemed to be hundreds of works. The artist must never have rested. There was as best as I can recall only one religious work. And that was a riveting crucifixion scene.
Studying Sargent's brass relief, one could better understand why Cicero wrote that crucifixion was the "most heartless and most harrowing" manner of execution.
This solitary work by the master artist Sargent was a fulfillment of the line of a priest who said so prophetically, "The world can never get away from that strange Man on the cross."
The crucifixion was of a type that I had never seen before. It had been made for the Boston Public Library about 1899. Beneath each of the outstretched arms of the Christ, there stood a figure. One was clearly the young disciple John. The other was a woman, no doubt His mother.
Each one held a chalice. They were catching His precious blood as it flowed from His hands wounded by the nails. They obviously wished to collect each and every drop of it.
The right foot of the Saviour was standing on a serpent. He was meant by Sargent to be a symbol for Satan. By His death Jesus the Christ had bested him.
And at the very base of the representation was a pelican. She was feeding her young with her own flesh and blood. It was a reference to His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. I recall wondering whether the artist knew of the line: "All the love of God crammed into a tiny piece of Bread."
Sargent had himself squeezed a great deal of theology into one brass relief. For me, John Singer Sargent had brought some fresh insights into the horrible and painful death of the Messiah. It was also the case for other spectators. Many stood around his crucifixion work studying every detail. No one spoke. They were transfixed. They better understood I think the awesome price the redemption had cost the Christ.
Yet, I do think Mr Sargent would have been surprised to learn that the cross did not appear as a Christian symbol till about the fifth century. Many archaeological digs have discovered early Christian symbols other than the cross. One thinks immediately of the ever-popular fish whose Greek letters stand for "Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour." There was the anchor which symbolized hope for the early Christians. And there were various types of Christograms. These were the first letters of Jesus Christ in Greek placed one on top of the other. But there were no crosses to be found among these early century finds.
Why? No less an authority than Dominican Father Jerome Murphy O'Connor, a professor at the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, answers the question for Catholic News Services. "The cross at the time," he says, "was being used for crucifixion and torture. To wear it around one's neck would be like wearing a miniature electric chair around your neck today. The idea was repulsive." Furthermore, many Christians felt it would be dreadful to utilize a symbol of sheer disgrace for their flourishing creed. Other scholars confirm Fr Murphy O'Connor's view. Some observers also go on to declare that if the Christians were to wear a cross, they would be inviting serious troubles from the police. They would be broadcasting the fact that they were indeed the followers of the Christ - Him who had been crucified outside Jerusalem by the Romans. So wisely they chose the more subtle symbols of the fish, the anchor, and the Christograms. These were codes that those who did not follow Jesus Christ would not fathom. These early centuries were of course the period in which the Christians underwent serious persecutions for their faith.
In the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. Happily he brought an abrupt halt to the centuries-old barbarous crucifixion. Then and only then did Christians accept the cross as their universal symbol. But intriguingly Fr Murphy O'Connor asserts it took another two centuries before the Christ figure was placed on that cross. The why of it remains a mystery.
As we begin this solemn week, we should carry with us this refrain: no one is too bad to be forgiven.
Stories from Father Tony Kadavil:
1) The six-year-old came home from Palm Sunday services proudly carrying his palm. Mom and Dad quizzed him on his Sunday school lesson for the day. He responded enthusiastically, "Jesus came to Jerusalem on a donkey. And the happy people waved their palm branches and sang, “O Susanna..."
2) "Why do you have that palm branch, dad?"
Little Johnny was sick on Palm Sunday and stayed home from church with his mother. His father returned from church holding a palm branch. The little boy was curious and asked why. His father explained, "You see, when Jesus came into town, everyone waved palm branches to honor him; so we got palm branches today." "Aw, shucks,” grumbled Little Johnny. "The one Sunday I can't go to church, and Jesus shows up!"
3) The angry Jesus:
Winston Churchill once listened to a hot-tempered raving, ranting tirade directed at him by an opponent whose mouth worked faster than his mind. At the end of it, Churchill said, in his own Churchillian way, "Our honorable colleague should, by now, have trained himself not to generate more indignation than he has the capacity to hold." A lot of people are like that.
4. “Either give up Christ or give up your jobs.”
Constantine the Great was the first Christian Roman emperor. His father Constantius I who succeeded Diocletian as emperor in 305 A.D. was a pagan with a soft heart for Christians. When he ascended the throne, he discovered that many Christians held important jobs in the government and in the court. So he issued an executive order to all those Christians: “Either give up Christ or give up your jobs.” The great majority of Christians gave up their jobs rather than disowning Christ. Only a few cowards gave up their religion rather than lose their jobs. The emperor was pleased with the majority who showed the courage of their convictions and gave their jobs back to them saying: "If you will not be true to your God you will not be true to me either.” Today we join the Palm Sunday crowd in spirit to declare our loyalty to Christ and fidelity to his teachings by actively participating in the Palm Sunday liturgy. As we carry the palm leaves to our homes, we are declaring our choice to accept Jesus as the king and ruler of our lives and our families. Let us express our gratitude to Jesus for redeeming us by his suffering and death, through active participation in the Holy Week liturgy and reconciliation with God and His Church, repenting of our sins and receiving God's pardon and forgiveness from Jesus through his Church.
5, Passion Sunday and the shadow of the cross:
The bishop of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris during the early part of the last century was a great evangelizer who tried to reach out to unbelievers, scoffers, and cynics. He liked to tell the story of a young man who would stand outside the cathedral and shout derogatory slogans at the people entering to worship. He would call them fools and other insulting names. The people tried to ignore him but it was difficult. One day the parish priest went outside to confront the young man, much to the distress of the parishioners. The young man ranted and raved against everything the priest told him. Finally, the priest addressed the young scoffer, saying, “Look, let’s get this over with once and for all. I’m going to dare you to do something and I bet you can’t do it.” And of course the young man shot back, “I can do anything you propose, you white-robed wimp!” “Fine,” said the priest. “All I ask you to do is to come into the sanctuary with me. I want you to stare at the figure of Christ on His cross, and I want you to scream at the very top of your lungs, as loudly as you can. ‘Christ died on the cross for me, and I don’t care one bit.” So the young man went into the sanctuary, and looking at the figure, screamed as loudly as he could, “Christ died on the cross for me, and I don’t care one bit.” The priest said, “Very good. Now do it again.” And again the young man screamed, with a little more hesitancy, “Christ died on the cross for me, and I don’t care one bit.” “You’re almost done now,” said the priest. “One more time.” The young man raised his fist, kept looking at the crucifix, but the words wouldn’t come. He just could not look at the face of Christ and say those words any more. The real punch line came when, after he told the story, the bishop said, “I was that young man. That young man, that defiant young man was I. I thought I didn’t need God but found out that I did.”