A Fervor More Feverish Than Before
Homily for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Preached on April 5, 2009 at Mary, Queen of the Holy Rosary Church, Lexington KY
Readings: Mark 11:1-10; Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15:47
A hundred people or so gathered at the Bluegrass Airport Tuesday night, awaiting the arrival of the new coach from Memphis. They were staunch fans eager to give the coach a warm welcome into Big Blue territory. The TV stations tell us that he ended up flying in at another local airport, but the message of that spontaneous gathering was clear: The fans want this coach. They are eager to meet this coach. They want to support this coach.
Any coach will tell you that zealous fans like these are the best of fans, but they also can be the worst of enemies and the harshest of critics. Quite often the ones who are most eager to welcome a coach, wine and dine him, pat his back and shake his hand, and carry him over their shoulders after a win, are also the ones who are the first to boo at lousy defense on the court or turn their backs after a huge loss. In a way, I can understand their motivation: true Blue fans do not settle for anything less than a victory. For them, mediocrity is not part of the multi-million dollar deal.
Some two thousand years ago, another crowd gathered at the gates of Jerusalem to welcome Someone more important into their city. His name was Jesus. They “spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields” (Mk. 11:8). “They took palm branches and went out to meet Him” (Jn. 12:13). “Those preceding Him as well as those following kept crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come. Hosanna in the highest!’” (Mk. 11:9-10). The message was clear: this crowd wanted Jesus to be their Messiah. They were eager to praise Him as the promised Savior, the heir to the throne of David the king.
And yet this same crowd that welcomed Jesus with Hosannas and palm branches was also the same crowd that shook their fists at Him and cried out, “Crucify Him!” (Mk. 15:13, 14). He was not the Messiah that they had expected. They had expected a monarch who would drive out the Roman army and restore the grandeur that was David’s kingdom. They had wanted someone who would come down in the form of a God in glory but only saw one who had “emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness” (Phil. 2:7). In a way, we can understand their motivation: the crowds were not going to settle for anything less than glory. For them, humility and humiliation were not part of the messianic plan.
Indeed, we see how the enthusiasm of fans only goes back to the last victory, how the fervor of the crowd only goes back to Jesus’ last great miracle. We know that we are plagued by the same short memory that has disheartened those fans in the arenas of the Southeastern Conference and that crowd in the alleys of Jerusalem. We too tend to be shortsighted: we who had welcomed Christ with palm branches and Hosannas at the beginning are the same crowd that had just cried out “Crucify Him!”
That is why, year after year, we proclaim this Passion of the Lord together so that we might not be caught in the snares of that short memory, so that we will never forget the price that was paid for our sake. We are called to remember who we are, the disciples of Christ who are still trying to stay awake at the garden of Gethsemane, still trying to summon up the courage to acknowledge Jesus at that courtyard, still trying to reject the bribe offered by the world to turn our backs to Him and His Gospel. Today, we read His Passion and enter into the mysteries of this Holy Week so that our enthusiasm will keep on burning within our hearts, so that our fervor does not fade away, so that, despite the beating, the buffets, and spitting that life throws at us, we can set our faces like flint, knowing that we shall not be put to shame because the Lord God is our help (cf. Is. 50:7). The Passion of our Lord is the word that will rouse those who have grown weary (cf. Is. 50:4) with the trials and temptations of life; it is the powerful memory that will move us to confess even to the end of the age that Jesus Christ, not in spite of but because of His humility and humiliation, is Lord and Victor and Messiah and Savior, to the glory of God the Father (cf. Phil. 2:11).
Take then with you this Passion of our Lord, keep this rousing word in mind, remember this moving memory of His sacrifice and His victory, so that, at His glorious return, He will find us waiting with the palm branches of our redeemed lives, our fervor more feverish than ever before, singing our full-throated and convincing song: “Holy! Holy! Holy Lord God of power and might! Heaven and earth are full of Your Glory. Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest!”