Today is Passion Sunday, aka Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. We have at last arrived at Holy Week. This week, culminating in the Three Days (Triduum), are the axis of cosmic time and human history. As the Carthusian monks word it, Stat crux dum volvitur orbis, “The cross is steady while the world whirls around.”
This week the Maker of time and space, the One who fashioned humanity to be “little less than a god” (Psalm 8:5), has set his face on Jerusalem, enduring for us and our salvation the terrors of the grave, tasting, and then harrowing, hell. Today’s first Gospel, taken from St. Matthew, walks us through Jesus’ triumphal entry into a “shaken” Jerusalem where he is jubilantly (though wrongly) hailed by the palm-waving crowds as the hoped for conquering Messiah. The allusions in this scene to the successful Maccabean war for religious freedom less than two centuries earlier (1 Maccabees 13:51) must have both worries the Romans and created a confused set of expectations among the Jews in Jerusalem who had come us to celebrate that great feast of God’s overthrow of political oppression in favor of religious freedom, the Passover.
However, our vision of Messianic triumph is suddenly set off balance we we hear Isaiah speak of a prophet beaten, beard-plucked and spat on; as we hear the Messianic psalm give voice to his cry of abandonment as he is savaged by his enemies before a silent God; as we hear St. Paul sing to us of a God-made-slave whose obedience reveals crucifixion and death as the cost of exaltation and victory. Our vision has been stunningly clarified.Then, at last, in the Gospel we happen on Jesus transubstantiating the meaning of Passover with his own sacrificial death; on his agony and betrayal; on his trial and condemnation; on his torture and crucifixion. We stand at the foot of the cross to see him nailed naked and bloodied to the gibbet, mockingly (and rightly) hailed as the treasonous “King of the Jews” whose death targets not the overthrow of Caesar, but the “despoiling of the principalities and powers” (Colossians 2:15); the overthrow of sin, death and the prince of darkness. But we are left at the end of this exhausting journey with us exiles from Eden “fixing a seal to the stone and setting the guard” at the tomb of God to make certain that He who expelled us once from the Garden and set a guard at its gate can Himself no longer threaten our rebellion with His terrifying love.
Today’s feast, therefore, permits us to enter into the opaque mystery of these coming days, leading us right to the very threshold of the grave where hope and despair vie for supremacy. Is not where we live and where faith abides?
I will share with you a meditation of Passion Sunday I wrote a dozen or so years ago, that I think I have shared here before. I pray it will help you open your heart a bit more to the quiet power of these days of awe, leading you even beyond the grave…
Like a Dish Cast Down
In this world of shallow depths
what is fair to the eye, and clean
is held aloft in highest esteem;
but what is broken, unpleasing to the eye
we shun, hide, judge worthily despised.
But should it be so?
No! and God, to shatter such folly chose
to stoop lowly low from soaring height
downward to a womb, all silence enclosed
from whence arose His needful cries
labored into Judah’s deep and waning night.
Now see! look, be still and surely know
That His Highness came down, mercy-crazed,
to shatter our enslaving shackling chains
by being bound, whipped, beaten, dazed,
led, gently along to silent slaughter,
to rescue in time Zion’s daughter,
give her undeservèd reprieve.
Behold! Immortal Spirit gasping to breathe,
the suffocating, waning Ancient of Days.
Love became mercy here,
the Just and Almighty Word
mocked and pierced;
wailing, lamenting cry,
gathering all flesh up
in a “Why?”
Silent is His tear-soaked death,
God slumping to earth,
breathing out eternal Breath.
Marred contours of clay, re-figured,
Heart welling up and over
emptied, out-poured to perfection.
Blood-writ icon of Triune life:
God from God,
One-shattered into an Other,
Substance wholly spilled,
wholly received, wholly returned;
yet now into our flesh!
Broken-God now risen,
turned up in ceaseless gaze
upon the Father’s Face,
as from all ages, yet now,
He sees that Face with ours.
My Brother, Father Drenched long ago, chrism’d flow Whet your thirst, the Vault outburst; Unleash of torrent grace, a deathless Face Impressed into your soul, Seraphic Coal Plucked of immaterial Fire, celestial choir Hymned your Day, dawned for human clay To carve your face paternal, icon of Eternal Begetting God unborn, forever His side torn To Beget a Word, in you whose whisper heard Recreating heart and star, those near, those far. We laud your life this hour, time of mercy’s Power That gave you as priest, rising from the dawning East. Amen.