Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphal entry of Our Lord into Jerusalem. Acclaimed as king and hailed as a conquering hero by the cheering crowd Our Lord would seem to have arrived at the fulfilment of his earthly mission. For Christ, the Son of the Living God, it is the beginning of the last week of his human life, a week of violent contrasts that will end in both grief and glory. The palm branches will soon be formed into crosses and the cheers of the crowd will turn into jeers calling for his death. Throughout this Holy Week our attention is focused on Jesus who is almost completely absorbed in prayer, responding quietly and sensitively to each new moment of sorrow.
Before his triumphant Resurrection, the Son of God has to suffer a disgraceful and extremely painful death. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he is deeply troubled, and he sweats blood as he prays for the Father to remove the chalice of suffering and death from him. He is also troubled because in spite of his impending sacrifice so many people will still reject him and suffer damnation. Betrayed by one of his closest friends and taken prisoner by his own people, he is handed over to foreigners and pagans to be mocked, blindfolded, beaten and spat upon, while a convicted terrorist and murderer is set free. He undergoes a final wrench of pain when his closest collaborator Peter denies him and the Apostles desert him. His sense of abandonment even by God is increased by the desertion of almost all his friends. On Calvary he is crucified between two thieves and he dies as a common criminal. All this time his Mother and a few relatives and friends stand alone at the foot of the Cross faithful to the last.
During this most solemn week of the Church’s year we are invited to travel that same road with Our Lady, Saint John, and those few friends who follow Christ to Calvary, and to remain silently at his side. Our Lord wants the work of his Cross to touch our lives, to break our sinful ways once and for all so that we may be changed and truly know God. The decisive test of our faith is one day to reach the point where we are ready to accompany Our Lord to Calvary along the same path into destruction and death. The sufferings of Christ that we recall in a special way during Holy Week have been a source of strength and encouragement to countless Christians for two thousand years. Our Lord’s Passion gives us, at the very least, a tiny glimpse into the mystery of suffering that surrounds us on all sides. In times of difficulty and suffering often what keeps people going and gives them strength and inspiration is the knowledge that they are not alone in their suffering, but one with God who himself has suffered. If anyone knows what we are going through, it is God.
During Holy Week we are confronted with the primary Christian symbol, the Cross, without which we cannot become Our Lord’s disciples: without the Cross there can be no crown. Holy Week offers us an opportunity to consider how we accept the Cross of Christ in our own lives, or indeed, how we refuse to embrace it. How do we share in the Lord’s Passion? There’s not much point in dwelling on the crucifixion of Christ during this solemn week if it remains an isolated event and not linked with the drama of suffering that goes on in our own lives and in the lives of others.