At Procession with palms Matthew 21,1-11. At Mass Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 21; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66
There are two homily notes here for our mediation
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
Homily on the Gospel (after the blessing of the palms, before the procession Matthew 21,1-11)
Jesus says to two of his disciples go into the village opposite, where on entering you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this, ‘The Lord has need of it”’. A colt is a young male donkey under the age of four, God had a plan for this colt; and, He lined up every single thing necessary to make sure that it fulfilled God’s purpose.
Every one of us no matter the circumstances has a purpose for existence. Most times our purpose may be disadvantaged by environmental influences, leaders and friends and many others. On the other hand people are tied down by guilt, anxiety, envy, lust, worry, and addictions. We are called today to take a step to untie them so that will can fulfill the purpose that is in the heart of the Father which He has destined for us before the foundations of the world.
Palm Sunday and Holy Week
This first day of the Holy Week has historically been signified in churches with the waving of palm branches and singing of “Hosanna!” It is called Palm Sunday because today palms are blessed and carried during the procession. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week or Passion Week.
The Palm: Palm is a symbol of victory. For the Romans and the Jews it was carried in joyful and triumphant procession. Again, victorious soldiers bore palm branches when parading. Palm was given as a victory emblem at public games. It was use to decorates graves as a sign of the triumphant death of a martyr. Palm stands for paradise. We carry palms as a sign of peace, peace with God and our brothers and sisters. Beloved in Christ, the palm we carry today celebrates the triumph of Christ over sin and death. Therefore, our victory is over sin and death.
Holy Week: This is also known as Passion Week. It refers to the last seven days of Jesus’ earthly ministry during which the key events of the paschal mystery are re-enacted. The Holy Week is described in Matthew chapters 21-27; Mark chapters 11-15; Luke chapters 19-23; and John chapters 12-19. During this week we shall carry out the following sacred celebrations:
Day 1: Holy Sunday, Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday Day 2: Holy Monday, Jesus Clears the Temple Day 3: Holy Tuesday, Jesus Goes to the Mount of Olives Day 4: Holy Wednesday, resting in Bethany in anticipation of the Passover Day 5: Maundy Thursday; the Passover and the Last Supper Day 6: Good Friday; Jesus’ Trial, Crucifixion, Death, and Burial. Day 7: Holy Saturday; Jesus in the Tomb.
As we commence the Holy week today, we are called to relive the emotions as we can with reference to our present situation – Coronavirus. Let us make genuine effort to follow Jesus closely, irrespective of the situation so that sharing in his passion we will also rise with him at Easter, the Resurrection Sunday.
Brief Homily on the Readings:
The readings today all point to the person of Jesus Christ. In the first reading, Isaiah speaks of Christ as one who came to preach the word of God but who was beaten and insulted. He did not revenge for God is on the throne and so the insults have no impact. The Psalm speaks of the sufferings of the servant of God- Jesus. Who then is above suffering? The second reading speaks of Christ divinity yet he humbled himself and so he has been exalted by God and his name ranks above everything in creation. Humility is a skill for spiritual greatness.
In the gospel, Matthew’s narrative more carefully binds the passion and death of Jesus the Messiah to his role as teacher and Son of Man who comes at the end of the age. In Matthew’s account two men died: Judas who realized his sin but failed to have hope; and Jesus who without sin continued to hope in the Father. This tells us about the suffering of the righteous and gives reasons to sinners not to run into despair. Therefore, if you are a sinner, irrespective of your sins – never give up. If you are a saint irrespective of your sufferings – never give up.
Lastly, the story of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem that we read at the blessing of the palms contrasts sharply the passion narrative. Still at Jerusalem, still the same crowd but different tunes. At the entrance it was “Hosanna” but now with them it is “let him be crucified”. Life is like that, the same people who hail you when things are good will still be the ones to crucify you when things are bad. However, the dead man rose. Therefore, if you trust in God, you will have the last laugh. You will rise and never again be put down by anyone.
Fr. Thomas Oyode
The Suffering Messiah and Suffering Humanity
From a global perspective, it is about five months now fighting hard to combat the deadly pandemic known as the coronavirus., from China to Italy and the rest of Europe, the American continents, to Asia and Africa. It would be euphemistic to say that we are in a state of global confusion, collective cluelessness and globally shared helplessness. For our country, Nigeria, the situation could be worsened by our pathetically weak socio-economic and administrative system. Without mincing words, our heart goes out to those who have to accept the “shelter in place”, also known as lock down, as mandated by the government. For how can an average Nigerian survive an externally imposed self-isolation when a large population of its citizens is made up of the unemployed, self-employed entrepreneurs, business persons or apprentices? How can a human person stay at home 24/7 for two weeks, and may be more, in a country without power supply, adequate food supply, efficient telecommunication network unexploited by unbridled capitalist service providers with an on looking, indifferent government? A country where more people may die of hunger than from contracting the virus itself. How would a people trust a system whose health care facilities are in total shambles or at best a facade, white washed buildings empty of personnel and infrastructures? A country where her people live on I beta pas mai neighbo (I am more endowed than my neighbour) generators is a country where more people could be exposed to noise pollution and asphyxiation than to the virus itself. We are now more exposed as a country than ever before and you could bet, our leaders would never be sober though we hope they would. A strong wind has come on us and the anus of the fowl is out in the open, our fathers say!
Let us not get confused here. I know my trade, I know this is a homily and it is not meant to whip up sentiments but that is as long as anyone thinks this is merely meant to arouse or evoke pity. This is rather a reawakening, a contribution to the many voices that continue to call our leaders to a concrete and people centred policies for integral national transformation in Nigeria. Our people are suffering.
Above all, it is a call on believers to realise that there is meaning to the present suffering in our world. That the Lord whom we serve is with us and understands our anguish and miseries., that himself knows how it feels to be maltreated, to be homeless, to be hungry, to be powerless and defenseless. We remember that Palm Sunday is also called Passion Sunday and it ushers us into the Holy Week, also called Passion Week. Thus it strikes a chord that there are so many connections derived from the liturgy of this Sunday as much as there are so many opposites:
1. The Eucharist (Thanksgiving) and the Cross 2. Passover and Passion 3. Suffering and Glory 4. Humility and Exaltation 5. Human Weakness and Divine Power 6. Friendship and Betrayal 7. Love and Insincerity 8. Companionship and Abandonment 9. Brotherhood/Fraternity and Loneliness 10. Justice and Oppression 11. Subservience and Pride
All of these and many more can be found in the trajectory of today’s notably long narratives in the Liturgy of the Word. Who can not but stop and think, who can not but reflect on the reality of human suffering, who would not shiver at the way the Lord, the Creator and Messiah is pushed so far into frustration and depression by his experience of suffering and evil in the world? Who can not but see that even today, our human existence has been rendered helpless by the sufferings of various forms that each and every of our fellow persons also experience. The story of the suffering Messiah in the First reading, the Responsorial Psalm and the Gospel narrative show us that Christ suffers with us and suffers in us. It can move us to tears. In fact, the Fathers of the Church from St. Augustine to St. Cyril say that the whole Church cry in Christ through the prayer of Psalm 22. Athanasius summarises it succinctly: “Psalm 22 describes the nature of the death from the lips of the Saviour himself… When he speaks of hands and feet being pierced, what else is meant than the Cross? After presenting all these things, the Psalter adds that the Lord suffers these things not for himself but for our sake.”
The last statement of Athanasius thus leads us to understanding the meaning of Christ’s passion. Christian suffering and experience of evil in the world is redemptive, different from the way the world sees it. For the Christian, we take up our sufferings with the strength that is not found in the provisions of social securities and amenities but in the grace of God. Jesus submits to God in total trust and humility as St. Paul says in the second reading and God raised him to glory. He found grace to carry on because he was humble before God.
His passion and cross is also tied to the Eucharist. Today, we are in a situation where we are unable to celebrate the Holy Eucharist as a gathered people convoked by the Father to offer him praise and thanksgiving in the House of the Lord because of a pandemic. Yet the power of the Eucharist is still efficacious in all the Masses said by priests all over the world. Therefore, we need to find out what deeper lessons are there to learn from our attitude to the Eucharist. Has the Eucharist been a school of Christian devoutness to me? Have I learnt that we can not separate the Eucharist from the cross which shows how fragile our lives are, how transient the material world is and how fast everything passes away? What if this is actually the world coming to an end? Have I learnt now that only God is powerful that I am as fragile as the suffering Lord, made to look like worm but made strong and glorious only by grace? Do I realize now that only God is Everything?
The Lord’s passion teaches us, lastly, to appreciate friendship and companionship, to value family life and happy memories, to let hearts be genuinely bonded. Let us not be too attached to our egos, unwilling to forgive and to give up. Let us learn to accept disappointing moments and offer all to God in total self-surrender. Only God has the perfect plan. Let us pay attention to the reality of suffering. We exploit wealth and store them up selfishly with little or no concern for the needy. We exploit the created universe with mindless disregard for the creator, we throw trash indiscriminately and refuse to maintain our drainages where they are constructed, we arrogantly invade animal habitats and in turn, they decide to prey on our body cells. We even exploit moments of pandemics and crises to get richer, to lute the public treasury by taking advantage of a weak and permissive social system where corruption thrives. But like the suffering Messiah, we are never crushed, the Lord’s name is forever magnified who raises the poor and the needy. Let us submit to him who holds our lives in existence now.
We adore you O Christ and we praise you because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.
An Act of Spiritual Communion
I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things,
and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if You were already there
and unite myself wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.