Guest column: Universal thoughts on Passion (Palm) SundayBy: Aaron Carmichael Webb City MO
My wife and I recently attended Palm Sunday Mass at Sacred Heart Parish, Webb City, MO. Before Mass began, the congregants met in the fellowship hall to listen to a short homily from Fr. Rahab Isidor, pastor, and to receive palm branches to celebrate the liturgy. The kids in the fellowship hall were fidgeting with their palm fronds, poking friends with the pointed leaves, energized by this change in the Mass routine. I heard one mom whisper to her child, “Take your finger out of your nose.” As people passed around the palm fronds, I couldn’t help but think about the attacks on the churches in Egypt that had happened earlier that morning. I’m sure the Christians there were involved in similar Palm Sunday activities. And then, someone came in among them, wearing a bomb, and destroyed all of that. If you saw any pictures from the attacks, you saw that there was blood everywhere. It was horrifying. So, I was distracted; thinking about the news I had read earlier that morning and the images I had seen.
Father Rahab started into his homily and mentioned the attacks in Egypt. He talked about the horror, but he also kept saying (in his loud, Haitian accent), “Folks, the devil doesn’t win.” Which is something that a Christian must know, of course, but it’s something that must be awfully hard to believe when someone walks into your church and kills your child.
After the homily, we went back into the sanctuary and Mass followed its normal schedule, except that, where the homily would typically take place, we instead read the entire story of the crucifixion; the supper, the garden, the betrayal, the torture, the death, and the burial. The somber focus seemed fitting, particularly this year. When we got to the part where Jesus asks his Father, “Why have you forsaken me?” I thought, yes, that’s probably the way some of those Christians feel in Egypt now, as they try to make sense of how following Jesus led to the violent deaths of their loved ones on this Passion (Palm) Sunday.
Or, because of where they live, maybe they had always expected this violence. Maybe it felt inevitable. I don’t mean to say that the Christians in Egypt invited this evil, but just that they were probably better equipped to deal with it when it finally showed up.
During Communion, I started thinking about the way Jesus’ death is depicted in the book of Hebrews. Jesus conquered death by “wearing” it, putting it on, suffering in his human flesh, and then overcoming it. He didn’t defeat death from a distance. He got in the ring and punched it out until death was the one who couldn’t stand up any longer. The victory was obfuscated by the blood, but it was still victory. Like Father Rahab said, “Folks, the devil doesn’t win.” The violence Jesus suffered, served His purpose. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t evil; it just means that God Redeems.
So, ISIS is fighting a battle they can’t win. In fact, watching the death they bring into the world is like watching grainy, 40-year-old footage of Muhammad Ali defeating George Foreman during ‘The Rumble in the Jungle.’ It’s obvious the blows are painful, but the ending is always the same. Only one can win, and death has already lost as Christ overcomes it.
Of course, the unfathomable mystery of Jesus is that he isn’t a boxer or warrior. He wins, but he does it in a way that looks so much like defeat that even his closest friends thought it was all over when he was up on the cross. But Jesus wins by dying. He wins by sacrificing himself for the sake of ISIS terrorists and the Christians they kill.
Aaron Carmichael teaches English at Missouri Southern State University and attends mass with his wife at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Webb City, MO. Aaron studied biblical literature as an undergraduate and then earned a degree in TESOL and Intercultural Studies from Wheaton College Graduate School in Wheaton, IL. He was involved in Christian service for several years in Colorado and China, and now enjoys living close to family here in southwest Missouri.