April 5, 2020 • Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
At the Procession of the Palms: Matthew 21:1–11
At the Mass: Isaiah 50:4–7
Psalm: Psalm 22:8–9, 17–18, 19–20, 23–24 (1)
Second Reading: Philippians 2:6–11
Gospel Acclamation: Philippians 2:8–9
Gospel: Matthew 26:14–27:66
Palm Sunday’s readings are extensive, starting with the Initial Gospel and the procession of the palms, re-enacting the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Then comes the First Mass Reading, the prophecy of Isaiah 50, and the responsorial Psalm 22, predicting the Lord’s passion with all of the suffering, the mocking and the crucifixion in great detail. In the Second Reading, the Apostle Paul lays out the depths of God’s humility and love for us in becoming one of us through His Son, Jesus Christ, who was willing to go to the cross to defeat death’s and Satan’s hold on us. Finally, the Gospel reading from Matthew, takes us through all the events of the passion of Jesus, culminating in His crucifixion, death and burial, with a guard posted at His tomb.
The Gospel reading is usually done with multiple readers, essentially re-enacting Passion week. The Catholic Church also has a number of devotions that we can do while we are stuck at home during the pandemic. A couple of the most well known are the Way of the Cross, with its fourteen meditations based on the events of the Passion from the Scriptures and Tradition, and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, based on meditations of five specific events of the Passion.
I am partial to the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. They are, in fact, my favorite mysteries and are the most meaningful to me. Here, I offer up some of my meditations on them for the Bible Study this week.
The First Sorrowful Mystery:
The Anguish of Jesus in the Garden
Jesus really, really wasn’t looking forward to going to the cross. His anguish and distress (fear!) were so great that He even asked his Father if there was some way for this cup of suffering to pass from Him. He had to pray His way to being able to face it. Saint Luke notes, “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.” A lot of Christians seem to think that Jesus had an unfair advantage being both God and Man, that somehow, He didn’t suffer as much as we do. This mystery lays that lie to rest. Think of the way He left heavenly bliss with the Father and the Holy Spirit and descended to this destiny.
This mystery is my favorite of the Sorrowful Mysteries, because Jesus saved me from perhaps taking my own life when overwhelming fear made me desperate to escape a future that looked only dark to me.
I was in my mid-thirties, sitting on the floor of the bathroom around 2 AM in great anguish over the future. I had been an Evangelical, born-again Christian for about 15 years. I was married with four children. I was a lay Bible teacher and preacher. And I couldn’t face life any more; it was scarier than death. I was trying to think of a way to kill myself and make it look like an accident. I was afraid of my career as a controller (chief accounting officer for an agency). Others couldn’t understand why I was afraid. I was a bean counter, after all; it was a desk job. I felt alone, no one understood me.
Suddenly, a voice spoke to me and said, “I know how you feel.” I knew instantly it was Jesus. I asked incredulously, “You do?!!!” He said, “Yes, remember my anguish in the Garden, great drops like blood. Does that ring a bell?” My eyes got wide, and I said, “Oh yeah! I guess you do know how I feel.” Hope came flowing back into me, because even if no one else knew how I felt, Jesus did. It was at that point in my life that He began leading me towards the Catholic Church, giving me hints along the way, so I would have Him in His fullness and be able to face life with Him and His Church
Jesus knows how we feel when we are afraid. He is helping me to “Be not afraid.” Lord have mercy!
The Second Sorrowful Mystery:
The Scourging of Jesus
Here I see the world lashing out at the Son of God in its hatred of God. He has finally fallen into their hands, so they are taking full advantage of their opportunity. With relish, they lay his back open with the scourge. If you’ve seen the Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson, you get the picture.
As I pray and meditate on this mystery, I often pray for the victims and perpetrators of misplaced and unjust anger and sometimes actual violence. I pray for the victims, that Jesus would be present to them, even if this cup can’t pass from them at the present time. I pray for their deliverance. I pray that Jesus would help them know that He knows how they feel, because He has been there, a victim just like them. He was willing to be the victim for us, to take all our misplaced anger towards God upon Himself.
I also pray for the perpetrators, that God would open their eyes, minds and hearts to see the evil and suffering they are causing, that they would repent. In many cases, they, too, had an abuser in their past who warped them, and they need healing and salvation from the Healer Himself.
And I remember when I have been both the perpetrator and the victim. Lord have mercy!
The Third Sorrowful Mystery:
The Crowning of Jesus with Thorns
Now that they have vented their rage at God, they proceed to cut Him down to size by mockery, scorn and cruelty. They made sport of Him with spitting, hitting and jamming a crown of thorns on His head. They mocked His kingship. Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, through whom all things were made and who upholds all things. The One who could have unmade those who mocked Him with a word.
Again, I pray for the mockers and the ones they mock. Anytime we treat other people with less than the dignity that they deserve as bearers of the image of God, we are guilty of the same thing. We have been both perpetrators and victims. But Jesus is in the middle of it all. He wants to deliver both. He knows how the victims feel and He has been in their place. I see a lot of mockery in the political realm, and it is ugly. It mars the image of God that people are supposed to be. Lord have mercy!
Fourth Sorrowful Mystery:
Jesus carries His cross
They continued His mockery and suffering by parading Him up the Via Dolorosa, making Him carry His own cross. In a few hours, He would die upon that instrument of torture.
When I think of this mystery, I think of all who are facing long-term suffering of any kind. I call them to mind and pray for them. When I was an Evangelical, I thought the only suffering that counted with God was persecution because of Jesus. But as I studied Catholicism, I realized that all suffering has purpose and can be united with the suffering of Jesus and offered up to God, who can do amazing things with it, transforming our own lives and the lives of others. My hope was increased. I watched it happen with my son, as he went through 15 years of terrible suffering with his medical condition, until God took him home. But God did amazing things in our lives and the lives of others, while being with him and us through it all.
And even Jesus had moments of consolation, on His terrible journey to the cross, from the women of Jerusalem, from His mother and Saint Veronica. We, too, experience moments of consolation as people help us in our suffering.
Lord Jesus, help us to bear the burden of others. You know how we feel. Lord have mercy!
Fifth Sorrowful Mystery:
The Crucifixion of Jesus
As Jesus went through His final agony, He prayed for God to forgive those who had crucified Him. He thought of those around Him, like John and His mother, even as He wrestled with loneliness amid intense suffering and death. I think of those in the hospitals dying of COVID-19, unable to have their families by their sides. I think of the martyrs for the Faith. I think of the doctors and nurses facing the risk of infection and death for us. Even there we are not alone; Jesus is in our midst. He knows how we feel.
When my family moved to the Denver metro area after living in a small town for 13 years, I had to commute across the Denver core to work, our son was fighting for his life and my employment was tenuous in the midst of the Great Recession. I was in my mid-fifties, still some years away from being able to retire. I suffered some severe panic attacks as I commuted. I felt like I was having a heart attack, and I was afraid of dying alone somewhere between work and home. The Lord gave me a prayer to help me overcome my fear. He taught me to pray, “Lord Jesus, I belong to You, and whether I live or die, I am going to be okay.” That and the Jesus Prayer kept my panic attacks at bay.
Lord Jesus, help us to know that You are with us, even in the valley of the shadow of death. May we be a light to others in the darkness. Lord have mercy!