The Week of Shake, Rattle, and Roll

Homily for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Preached on April 16-17, 2011 at Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY and Saint Mary Catholic Church Perryville KY
Readings: Matthew 21:1-11; Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66

This is the week of shake, rattle, and roll.

It begins with Jesus entering Jerusalem to the chorus of loud Hosannas (cf. Mt. 21:9), an event so seismic that the evangelist used the word έσείθη—a form of the Greek verb σείω, to shake or to quake (the very root of the word seismic)—to describe what had happened. “The whole city was shaken” (Mt. 21:10), said the Gospel at the Procession with the palms. There was a tremor in Jerusalem when He who comes in the name of the Lord entered the Holy City. The citizens, having lost their bearings, staggered with the question: “Who is this?” (Mt. 21:10). The crowds replied, “This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee” (Mt. 21:11).

The next time that verb έσείθη is used again in the Gospel according to Matthew, we find Jesus just outside of Jerusalem, dead on a cross on Golgotha (cf. Mt. 27: 51). This time, it was not just the city that shook; the earth itself quaked (Mt. 27:51). The tremor was so strong that rocks were split and tombs were opened (Mt. 27:51-52). The world itself, having lost its foothold, did not dare to ask the question of the citizens of Jerusalem: “Who is this?” By then, even the foreign-born centurion could tell that “Truly, this was the Son of God” (Mt. 27:54).

good friday quake

This is the week of shake, rattle, and roll.

The Jerusalem tremor and that earthquake are not the only things that will rattle us this week. The drama of these seven days—being there when they crucified my Lord, being there when they nailed Him to the tree, being there when they laid Him in the tomb—causes us, in the words of the old spiritual, to tremble, tremble, tremble. We experience that here when we proclaim the Passion of the Lord on our feet; the liturgy goes so long that even the strongest knees begin to buckle, tremble, give way. Yet, it is the unfolding of the events of this week that will leave us most unnerved. Jesus said as much on the Mount of Olives: “All of you will have your faith in me shaken” (Mt. 26:31).

This week, we will realize that our faith in Jesus is like those palms that were raised at His entrance into Jerusalem: our faith wavers with the wind; it quivers at the first whisper of doubt; it shakes at the first mention of scandal. But, Jesus’s faithfulness to us and to His Father is unwavering: it is rooted on an immovable rock like that cross on Calvary. Neither the treachery of a trusted man nor the denial by a disciple, neither the cruelty of the crowd nor the scandal of the cross is going to stand in the way of His faithfulness to us and of His obedience to His Father. “Though He was in the form of God…He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).

This is the week of shake, rattle, and roll.

This is the week when Jerusalem shakes, when the scandal of the cross rattles us to the core. This is the week when we are confronted by the crowd’s question: “Who is this?” (Mt. 21:10) Who is this whom they first welcomed? Who is this whom they later condemned? Who is this whom they have crucified? By this week’s end, the earth again will quake (Mt. 28:2), the stone that once sealed the universe in the prison of death will be rolled away, and the definitive answer to all the world’s longings will emerge out of an empty tomb.

This is the week of shake, rattle, and roll.

The city and earth will shake. Our hearts will rattle and tremble. The stone of the sepulcher will roll away. None of them, none of us, can hardly handle the gravity of the grace that Heaven has in store, the grace that God offers even for the long lost soul.

~ by Fr. Noel F. Zamora on Sunday, April 17, 2011.

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