Homily for Passion Sunday Year C
Theme: The triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem
By: Rev Fr Stephen ‘Dayo Osinkoya
Homily for Sunday April 10 2022
Psalm 21:8-9, 17-20, 23-24
Constantine the Great was the first Christian Roman emperor. His father Constantius I, who succeeded Diocletian as emperor in AD 305, was a pagan with a soft heart for Christians. When he ascended the throne, he discovered that many Christians held important jobs in the government and in the court. So, he issued an executive order to all those Christians: “Either give up Christ or give up your jobs.” The great majority of Christians gave up their jobs rather than disowning Christ. Only a few cowards gave up their religion rather than lose their jobs. The emperor was pleased with the majority who showed the courage of their convictions and gave their jobs back to them saying: “If you will not be true to your God you will not be true to me either.” Today we join the Palm Sunday crowd in spirit to declare our loyalty to Christ and fidelity to His teachings by actively participating in the Palm Sunday liturgy.
Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. Palm Sunday is known as such because the faithful will often receive palm fronds which they use to participate in the re-enactment of Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem.
In the Gospels, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a young donkey, and to the lavish praise of the townspeople who threw clothes, or possibly palms or small branches, in front of him as a sign of homage. This was a customary practice for people of great respect. Palm branches are widely recognized symbol of peace and victory, hence their preferred use on Palm Sunday. The use of a donkey instead of a horse is highly symbolic; it represents the humble arrival of someone in peace, as opposed to arriving on a horse for war.
In the middle section of the book of the prophet Isaiah, chapters 40-55, of the book of the prophet Isaiah, there are four short passages which scholars have called the Songs of the Suffering Servant. Today’s first reading is the third Servant Song. These four songs are about a mysterious figure whose suffering brings about a benefit for the people. In the original author’s mind, the servant was probably a figure for the people of Israel, or for a faithful remnant within the people. However, Jesus saw aspects of his own life and mission foreshadowed in the Servant Songs, and the Church refers to them in this time of solemn meditation on the climax of Jesus’ life.
Our second reading is an ancient Christian hymn representing a very early Christian understanding of who Jesus is, and of how his mission saves us from sin and death. It is a message that Paul received from those who had been converted to Christ. “Jesus was Divine from all eternity. But he didn’t cling to that. Rather he emptied himself and became human. He accepted further humbling by obeying the human condition even unto death by crucifixion. So, God highly exalted him, giving him the highest title in the universe.” Christians reading this passage today are joined with the first people who ever pondered the meaning of Jesus’ life and mission. We’re singing their song, reciting their creed, during this special time of the year when we remember the most important things Our Lord did.
Our liturgy this week invites us to follow Jesus every step of the way, beginning with his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. There he was welcomed, applauded and acclaimed by a crowd of well-wishers. On Thursday we will join him at table, to receive his gift of himself in the Eucharistic bread and wine. After dining with him we will, in our reflections, go with him along the trail from the Upper Room to the Garden of Olives. There we will see him struggling with fear and anxiety about the cruel death that awaits him.
On Good Friday we will be standing in spirit beside his mother at the foot of the cross, while he hands his spirit back to the Father who sent him.
How do we respond to this great act of love we celebrate today? We cannot but respond with gratitude. The kind of gratitude that will make us hate sin which caused him his life. The kind that will make us take seriously the Holy Thursday as the celebration of God’s way of love and turn around to be of service to our neighbour, and devote time to watch with him in prayer with worship and adoration (Mark 14:32-42). It is the kind of gratitude that will provoke us to celebrate the Good Friday with solemn meditation on the ingredients (agony, scourging, carrying of cross, falling three times, bleeding and death) with which Jesus prepared the banquet that brings us Salvation, and resolve to work to alleviate the sufferings of the people; celebrate the Holy Saturday with a resolution to break with sin and begin a new life in the spirit of Easter (Col. 3:1ff).
This week the Church invites us to behold and experience the extravagance of God’s personal love for you, and ask him in what way you are to pour yourself out in response to his grace.
*Rev Fr Stephen ‘Dayo Osinkoya*