Palm Sunday: Holy Week reveals God’s lavish and limitless love
Posted: Thu, 25 Mar 2021 16:52
On the threshold of Holy Week, Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB reflects on Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on a humble donkey, and his example of sharing God's unconditional love. Photo: Millie and Milo, at home in Mayo (Fr Gerry)
On Palm Sunday—Passion Sunday, we begin that most sacred week of Christian history; as we enter Holy Week, we enter, not with a sense of triumphalism, but in a true spirit of humility. In my family home back in Ireland I am so lucky to have two pet donkeys; in the summer lockdown I felt privileged to share their company. Their trust and companionship, helped no doubt by a steady supply of carrots, was a great comfort during troubling times. It was on this simple beast of burden that Jesus, the Messiah, entered Jerusalem. Not for him the powerful horse or chariot, rather the simplicity of the donkey, blessed by a cross on its back.
As we prepare to enter yet another pandemic Holy Week, we realise the toll of COVID-19 in our lives. On this Passion Sunday, we can reflect on the birthdays we have missed; the hugs and warm friendships we have had to conduct over social media; the reality of being a vibrant Christian community without physical contact or singing. This past year has been like a 'twelve-month Lent' as we have had to give up so much. Holy Week reveals God's Love that is lavish, limitless, shown in the events unfolding before our eyes. His passion is the outcome of His compassion and his whole life is wonderful witness to God's self-emptying Love. 'He did not cling to His equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave' (Philippians 2:7). Jesus came to serve, not to be served.
The tradition on Palm Sunday is to read one of the passion accounts—today it is obviously from Mark (Mark 14:1-15:47). We will share the passion story again on Good Friday, when we share John's gospel account. Today, we begin in Bethany, a favourite resting place for Jesus, as he found comfort and support in the home of his friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Jesus is in the home of 'Simon the Leper'; this should make us think: if Simon was a leper, surely, he should be living out of town, away from everyone—and certainly not inviting people in for dinner? Our experience of this past twelve months has taught us that Jesus and Simon could not be in the same social bubble. Scholars suggest that Simon could have been related to Martha's family, even suggesting that he is their father. For Jesus and the guests to have been invited for dinner, Simon must have been cured, perhaps he was cured by Jesus!
As Jesus begins this pilgrimage and his way of the cross, an unnamed woman breaks through the social conventions to anoint Jesus 'with an alabaster jar of costly ointment.' Above the hypocritical cries against such generosity, Jesus shows that we cannot limit God's love—a love that reaches fulfilment as Jesus stretches out his arms fully on the cross just days later.
I pray that you fully enjoy this experience and that you enter fully into this sacred Camino that is Holy Week. Especially through the experiences that we have shared since last Palm Sunday, we have, perhaps, become more sensitive to suffering both in our own lives and in the lives of others. Today we are invited, with the woman of Bethany, to exercise compassion; to be less judgemental, and not to plot and bring others down like Judas.
Holy Week offers us another chance to bask in the unconditional love of God—please grasp it.
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB