Many of you will remember when Passion Sunday and Palm Sunday were celebrated a week apart, until the liturgical reforms after Vatican II and the introduction of the three volume Lectionary combined them into one, so that it is now called Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. It means that over a three-year period we get the chance to listen to the story of Christ’s Passion from Matthew, Mark and Luke, with the Passion of John being always read on Good Friday.
The liturgy of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord highlights the extraordinary contrasts and tensions between Christ’s joyful and triumphant entry into Jerusalem and the shouts of Hosanna Lord, followed by the dramatic and tragic events of Christ’s Passion with the cries of Crucify Him! For me it brings to mind a terrifying ordeal of real contrast and tension that I experienced during a liturgy some years ago.
It took place in South Africa, just months before the first ever democratic elections in 1994. Tensions in the country were running high. I had only arrived a few days earlier from Ireland to supply for a Passionist Priest, Father Paul Mary, who was recuperating from surgery, before heading on to Botswana to do some work with students and novices. It was my first time in Africa, and this was my first Sunday with the people. After the first Mass I was collected and brought to a black township where I was to celebrate mass and baptise 12 children. Opposite the Church was a cemetery and one side of the Church building was all windows, offering a clear view all the way down the road leading up to the cemetery.
The Mass had been a wonderful celebration of singing and dancing with life and faith in abundance. I loved it. There was a catechist, a great character, who was translating my homily into Sotho. The baptisms were to follow at the end of Mass and everyone stayed on to welcome these new children into the faith community. The atmosphere was full of joy. Towards the end of the Mass however, I noticed a rather menacing looking group gathering at the gates of the cemetery bearing traditional African weapons, fierce looking things, and now a funeral procession was making its way up the road towards the cemetery. It was clear that the people in the Church were aware of this too because the atmosphere noticeably became tenser, and of course they would have been much more aware than me of the tribal conflicts involved. Soon there was a full-scale battle going on outside. I turned anxiously to my catechist/translator and asked what I should do. He told me just to continue and finish the baptisms, which I did, and then, while the people stayed on in the Church, I was led out of a back door and driven through a maze of quiet and remote roads, safely back to the house.
I wouldn’t like to experience anything like that ever again, but it was a reminder to me that people throughout the world in a number of places have to live their faith in situations of tension all the time, and also that the tensions of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, and of the events that we will celebrate in Holy Week, were very real. Let’s try to enter into these events with an active faith and walk with Christ every step of the way.
I hope you all have a very happy and holy Easter. My log will take a little break now and I will be back with you in a few weeks. Here’s a Good Friday poem by Christina Rosetti:
Am I a stone, and not a sheep, That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross; to number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss, and yet not weep? Not so those women loved who with exceeding grief lamented Thee; Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly; Not so the thief was moved; Not so the Sun and Moon which hid their faces in a starless sky, A horror of great darkness at broad noon. I, only I. Yet give not o’er, but seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock; Greater than Moses, turn and look once more, and smite a rock.