Reflection for Palm Sunday – April 9, 2017

Readings: Isaiah 50: 4-7; Philippians 2: 6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66
Preacher: Irene Godwin

Some years ago I began taking my 3 ½ -year-old son to morning Mass. During Lent at the parish we attended, there was a large wooden cross on the altar. On one of those mornings my son asked me, “Why didn’t Father take Jesus off the cross?” I remember thinking, I guess I have not explained the Passion story very well. However, this may be a good Holy Week reflection.

As we begin Holy Week, our Gospel readings take us from the triumphant entrance into Jerusalem through Jesus’ death. As we listened today we hear the crowd shouting loud hosannas as Jesus passed by. We settle ourselves into hearing Matthew’s account of the Gospel. We hear that someone would betray Jesus. We also hear Peter and all the disciples claiming they would not desert their leader.

Quickly Jesus and the disciples move to the garden where the disciples fell asleep. After Judas’ betrayal with a kiss, the disciples fled. During the trials, we hear of Peter’s three denials. We will not read of the other disciples until the resurrection. Peter represents the disciples. Even the great Christian leader failed.

The crowd who we hear in the first Palm Sunday Gospel shouting Hosanna, later shouts, “Crucify him.” They even choose a notorious criminal to be freed over Jesus. Simon, a stranger, was picked to carry the crossbeam. We hear that at the crucifixion there were many women present at a distance. Once Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea came to take Jesus from the cross and laid Him in the tomb. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sat vigil. Had they remembered Jesus’ prophecy—Jesus would die and rise again? Did not the other disciples remember Jesus’ words? Where were they?

Where are we that do know the entire story? What impact, if any, does this story of Jesus have on my life? Do I walk away from the tomb in fear, in disbelief or belief? If I do believe, how do I act on that belief? Are there days when I sing loud Hosannas only to deny my faith the following day? Do I follow from a distance only to run away in fear when the going gets tough? Do I go along with groupthink as the crowd did or do I work to find the truth? Finally, how do I daily take Jesus off the cross?

In his book, Seeds of Peace, Fr. William Shannon tells the story of a father and his 10-year-old daughter. They were watching the news on TV. During the news, a South African black man was forced out of his home by a group of young thugs. They pelted him with stones until he died. The girl was quiet and then asked: “Daddy, why didn’t the man with the camera help the person who was killed by the stones?”

What does taking Jesus off the cross look like for me?

Do I stand up for the persecuted? Who are the persecuted in my life? Am I overwhelmed by the magnitude of events and watch from a distance? Life today is complicated and we are faced with many differing opinions. Many ideas are sent our way through social media and TV. How do we know what is truth and what is false? It does seem easier to stay quiet and say nothing.

We cannot all be experts on every idea that comes our way. However, we can take time to discern. We pray, listen to knowledgeable people, read Church teachings and try to come to a truth for ourselves. When we come to the truth, do we act on it? That truth may lead us into uncomfortable places. How do we live that truth without causing more hate and disunity?

Taking Jesus off the cross may be as simple as finding ways to make peace with friends, neighbors and family who disagree. It may be sitting vigil with immigrants, prisoners, the sick, lonely or grieving. It may be standing up to someone who bullies a co-worker or class mate. It may be working to make sure everyone has food, clothing and shelter. We cannot do it all; however, we can at least not run away in fear or apathy. We take Jesus off the cross one day at a time, little by little.

Irene Goodwin
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