Passion Sunday 2023
The week before last I was in Ottawa for a few days. My time there coincided with the visit from the President of the United States. He arrived in an immense motorcade as people looked on. I can tell you that the town was abuzz with talk of his entry into the city and what it might mean.
At the opening of our liturgy this morning, we heard the account of another entry into a different city. That place was ancient Jerusalem, and the one entering it was Jesus. We are told by Saint Matthew that all of Jerusalem was stirred up with excitement about his arrival. Crowds gathered, hailing his entry with tree branches, causing many to ask the question: “Who is this?” Some comparisons with the visit recently witnessed in Ottawa can help us appreciate the message we are hearing from Sacred Scripture.
Everything about the Ottawa visit spoke of earthly power. Streets were closed off, security was very tight, and people were speculating about what political consequences might ensue from this particular arrival and events attending it, not only for the two countries but also the world.
Nothing about the arrival of Jesus spoke of earthly power. He entered the city riding on a donkey. No massive state dinner awaited him; he would gather for a simple Passover meal with a few of his disciples. He had no state security to protect him. Rather, the power of the state was turned against him. Yet, the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem set in motion events that would have not only temporal but also eternal consequences for all humanity of every age, something no earthly leader could ever achieve or even imagine. As the liturgy said at the opening, Jesus entered Jerusalem to initiate what we now call his paschal mystery, his death and resurrection, by which he would conquer sin and its consequences, even death, and open for all the gateway to eternal life in heaven.
In Ottawa, the President has now come and gone and life has returned to normal. Afterward, some people debated its import, but for no more than a few days. Even though the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is now a moment in history long past, he remains with us everywhere and forever in the full power of his paschal mystery. Let there be no debate in our own minds and hearts about what this means. He has come to the world as its only Saviour. The one rejected by the powers of the world has become the world’s Redeemer. By his victory over sin and death, Jesus has laid bare the emptiness and futility of all earthly pride and manifested the true sovereignty of love. This is what we commemorate and celebrate in our solemn liturgies of Holy Week now beginning.
Allow me to suggest that we carry with us into this week not only the palm branches we have blessed, but also, and more importantly, the question asked by the crowds in ancient Jerusalem: “who is this”? At a superficial level we all know the response, of course, yet the question touches on so profound a mystery that its answer takes a lifetime to sink deeply into our consciousness and hearts. The crowds answered by saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.” True, but he is infinitely more than a prophet. The solemn celebrations of the Church this week will proclaim that he is the Eternal Son of God who, in his assumed human nature, died and rose from the dead to bring salvation to the whole world. As this week we pose and re-pose the question “Who is this?”, let us pray for the grace of true understanding so that, from the depths of our hearts and with the entirety of our lives, we, too, shall acclaim Jesus as Son of David, Son of God, and Saviour of the world.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Saint Joseph Basilica
April 2, 2023