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Bulletin: March 28, 2021

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week and previews its themes and events. Today’s liturgy begins with the commemoration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The Roman Missal gives three options for how this can be done, the most elaborate of which begins with the priest, ministers, and the entire assembly outside. The Gospel account of the entry is read, after which palms are blessed and distributed. Then everyone enters the church in procession, singing songs or psalms. However, the joy is temporary; the Passion narrative recounts how, after an intimate meal with his disciples a few days later, Jesus is arrested, tortured, crucified, and buried. The reading from Isaiah is one of four Suffering Servant songs, while the psalm likewise gives voice to the suffering of the innocent. The reading from Philippians affirms the Incarnation as God’s embrace of the entire human situation, including suffering and death.


It may be Palm Sunday, but the Passion is far more prominent in today’s liturgy, which invites us to follow Jesus from his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem to his crucifixion and burial. It simply overflows with the sorrow and intimacy that will be dominant themes in Holy Week.

The first reading from the book of Isaiah gives voice to the suffering of an innocent person—perhaps a prophet—or the people as a whole. The refrain for the Psalm is Jesus’ cry from the cross (Mark 13:14), a cry of absolute, existential loneliness. The great kenotic (emptying) hymn in Philippians provides a stunning portrait of Jesus’ ultimate emptying, simultaneously intimate and cosmological.


All four Gospels have a Passion narrative. While there is agreement on the main events—an intimate meal shared by Jesus and the disciples, betrayal by Judas, prayer in Gethsemane followed by Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion—each Gospel has unique variations that give it a particular meaning or tone. In today’s Gospel from Mark, Jesus is anointed by an unnamed woman in the house of Simon the leper. All the Gospels have Jesus being anointed by a woman, but only Mark puts this scene just before the Last Supper. Jesus says the anointing is preparation for his burial; it is as if the woman could see a prophet’s suffering in Jesus’ life and feel it in his presence. Moved by compassion, she empties her jar of expensive nard on his head, pouring out her love in a profoundly intimate act. Perhaps she will also join the women who witness the crucifixion from afar (Mark 15:40–41), after the Twelve seem to be long gone.

Palm Sunday invites us to follow Jesus through the rest of Holy Week. By moving us to feel the injustice and the suffering endured by Jesus, this week’s liturgies and devotions present us with those same choices. Perhaps, like the unnamed woman, we can open ourselves to others’ suffering and respond with love and compassion. Or perhaps, like the Twelve, we will be conspicuous by our absence.

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