PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S PASSION
The scripture readings from this reflection: Luke 19:28-40; Is 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Phil 2:8-9; Lk 22:14-23:56 or Lk 23:1-49
The cross is the most prominent worldwide emblem of Christianity. It is honored in our churches and homes. Sometimes the cross holds the pierced body of Jesus Christ— the cross of Calvary. Sometimes the cross is empty of the body—the cross of Easter resurrection. During Holy Week, we Catholics with all other Christians reflect on the cross with Jesus nailed to it.
In the Old Testament reading on Palm Sunday leading us into Holy Week, the prophet Isaiah looks to the future when God will call someone to a totally unexpected mission. This beloved servant will suffer, giving his “back to those who beat him,” not shielding his face from “buffets and spitting” of those intent on humiliating him.
The New Testament identifies Jesus of Nazareth as this suffering servant. St. Paul writes that though Jesus was “in the form of God,” he “emptied himself … coming in human likeness … obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-11). Paul envisions the cross as a sign of Christ’s love. “Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God” (Eph 5:1- 2).
As Jesus endured the pain of the cross out of love for his Father and us, notice what he did: he thought about others. He asks his disciple John to take care of his mother Mary and asks her to trust John as her son. He tells one of the criminals crucified a few feet from him that, because of his repentance, he will join the Lord in paradise that very day. And Jesus seeks from his heavenly Father forgiveness for the soldiers who crucified him. Jesus seems to have eased his own pain by thinking of others around him, an example for us when we endure pain in life.
The cross is also a sign of glory. In The Liturgical Year, author Adrian Nocent says that John’s Gospel, like Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, depicts the cross as a sign of Christ’s glorification and exultation. Nocent writes: “The crucifixion is … not a sign of death alone; it is also a sign of exultation to glory. If Jesus had simply died, history would only have witnessed one more person laid low. But Christ also rose from the dead; his resurrection is inseparable from his death and is the other side of it.”
Resurrection, which we will celebrate on Easter Sunday, is also the other side of our deaths.
Prior to Calvary’s cross, Jesus carried many crosses in the brief three years of his teachings and healings. For instance, he was often misunderstood, hurt by those who left him after being his followers for a while. He lived with disappointment over those more interested in his miracles than his teachings. He had to deal with serious threats from powerful authorities opposed to him.
As followers of Jesus, we expect crosses in our lives. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily,” Jesus said (Lk 9:23). Some of our crosses are light, some heavy. Some temporary, others enduring. Disappointments in oneself or others. Worries about loved ones. Physical limitations and illnesses, especially if life threatening. It is quite a challenge to retain a loving heart for others, as Jesus did, when crosses enter our lives.
From the cross, Jesus teaches us lessons for our lives. One is: never put a limit on how loving you can become. Jesus put no limit on his love. He gave his all, out of love for us, so that our sins could be forgiven. “No one has greater love than this,” Jesus said, “to lay down one’s life for his friends” (Jn 15:18).
You and I are called our whole life long to become ever more loving men and women—of God and of neighbor. That includes the ones we already love the most, all who are a part of our lives in one way or another and, yes, the many beyond our daily contacts. We should never think: I am loving enough. With God’s help, we can Indeed become more loving persons.
An accompanying lesson from Jesus on the cross is this: to become more loving, sacrifice may be necessary. To love God more faithfully requires sacrifice. To love others more deeply requires sacrifice. Love and sacrifice go together. We know that not only from the Lord on the cross, but from our own personal experience. The challenge is not to back away from sacrifice when opportunities for greater love present themselves.
Not only during Holy Week but beyond, take time to reflect prayerfully on the cross of Calvary—the crucifix. For doing so, the Lord will bring blessings to you and, through you, to many others.
Bishop Emeritus John J. Leibrecht is the retired Fifth Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. The first and only Bishop Emeritus of the diocese, Bp. Leibrecht lives in Springfield.