The Victory of the Cross

Palm Sunday. Luke 19:28-40; Isa 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Luke 22:14 – 23:56 or 23:1-49

A strange aspect of Palm Sunday is that the Mass begins with a First Gospel reading of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, but continues with a second Gospel reading of his Passion and death. Given that we shall commemorate these on Good Friday, it seems that we are moving ahead of ourselves. Today we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, yet immediately there is the account of his crucifixion and death.

When Jesus rides into Jerusalem in this way, he is fulfilling many Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah, most notably the prophecy of Zechariah ch. 9, “Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.” Nevertheless, even in this triumphal entry when Jesus is being acclaimed by the people there are all kinds of associations with his Passion. Jesus is described as approaching the Mount of Olives, the same Mount of Olives where he will return to pray to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his arrest. Jesus is surrounded by multitudes of people; he will also be surrounded by multitudes – perhaps even the same people – as he carries his cross to Calvary. The people spread leafy branches or palms in front of him, but palms in the Book of Revelation are described as the symbols of victory held by martyrs. Most subtly there is the acclamation of the crowd. The crowd greet Jesus with the words “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” These words, however, come from psalm 118, a psalm which has many other lines that can be seen as prophecies of the Passion and death of Christ. Here are a few examples: “The nations all encompassed me … they compassed me about like bees; they blazed like a fire among thorns …” These verses describe well the kind of ‘halo of hatred’ that encompasses Christ at the time of his Passion, the same halo with which the Christian martyrs of later centuries were also glorified when they died surrounded by the crowds in the arena. Here is another line from psalm 118, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner stone,” indicating the rejection of Christ by his own people and the authorities. Yet another reads, “Go forward in procession with branches … even to the altar.” This procession prophesies the triumphal entry of Christ, but the procession is going to the altar, an altar being, of course, a place of sacrifice. So it seems that the victory and cross of Christ are inseparable. Both are recalled together on Palm Sunday.

What lesson is there here for us? The obvious lesson is that triumph and the cross are inseparable in the life of any faithful Christian and, indeed, it is through the cross that victory is gained. The cross can, of course, take many forms. I learned this in particular from the way that my grandparents lived and died. My grandfather Charles took part in the invasion of Normandy in 1944; to judge from our Book of Remembrance it is possible that some of his United States colleagues were men from the Hill. But my grandfather showed greater courage, in my view, towards the end of his life when he cared for my grandmother who was dying of cancer. Before she died, my grandmother joked with him, saying “you’re not getting into heaven on my back!” This was, however, a joke which light-heartedly pointed out the truth. It was precisely in the love and the great suffering of my grandfather in caring for his wife that, I believe, will one day (if they have not already done so) open the gates of heaven to him. I see so many similar examples of heroism in daily life that I often think that everyone who perseveres in life deserves a medal. Our way to heaven and to victory is through sharing the cross of Christ.

So it is important to take courage as we face our own crosses, our crosses that are the price of love. Suffering is never pleasant, but God can use it to bring about our salvation. As we hold up our palm branches in this church this morning, we also participate in a living prophecy, a representation of the heavenly Jerusalem as seen in the Apocalypse of St. John. It is this with which I would like to conclude. “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.”

Fr. Andrew Pinsent, St. Ambrose Church, 1st April 2007

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