St Thomas More, Bateman on Sunday 5 April 2020.
Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, Year A I5
Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66
Parish Priest: Fr. Phong Nguyen
“Then all the disciples deserted him and ran away.”
In the extraordinary circumstances of our life at this very moment, we are called by the Federal Government and by the Church to change the way that we live in order to slow down the spread of the terrible infectious Coronavirus, and to eradicate this so-called COVID-19 pandemic. This sudden change in the way that we live and socialise has also deeply impacted even in our communal way of worship. I am certain that all of us have never experienced what is happening to us and to everyone, to every family in the world due to such a health crisis like this ever before. Many of us have never experienced or celebrated Palm Sunday, the Triduum, and Easter services that we are celebrating online like this before. It is very different. But I trust and pray that your faith in God would still be the same even when you are being challenged by self-isolation, being tested by social distancing and restrained from doing what you would normally do in your daily life.
The liturgy today is rather different from that of other Sundays. Already you will have noticed this when at the beginning of Mass, a Gospel passage was read, telling of how the crowds welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem as they sang, “Hosanna to the Son of David”, and then we all blessed the palm branches. Usually under normal circumstances, we process with palms, singing like the crowds. We now have our blessed palms and we’ll take them home. Again, in the current situation of health crisis, the palm branches are already at home with you. And you would put them somewhere so that you can remember that Jesus Christ is definitely someone to sing and shout about, someone with whom you can rely on. I know many of you already had your palm branches put on your front door today to mark this significant event of Palm Sunday and begin to enter into Holy Week. Another major difference that we have just heard is the reading of the full account of Jesus’ passion in the Gospel. It is longer than usual, significant for our Christian faith, and meaningful for us.
Apart from the length of the Gospel, there is something quite different happening in this Gospel from what was happening in the first Gospel reading, which was read out after the blessing of palm branches. The tone has changed starkly and dramatically. We have moved, as it were, from being witnesses of people in the crowd happily singing and rejoicing to now being witnesses of every detail of injustice and cruelty and torture inflicted on Jesus just a few days later. As we begin our celebrations of Holy Week, we may ask ourselves what is happening today?
Today we are being first-hand witnesses to the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we are being called to watch closely as Jesus undergoes and endures the journey to Calvary. Today we are being asked to decide whether to stay close and walk with Jesus. On the first Good Friday, all of Jesus’ disciples left him at various times along the route. Today we are asked to make the decision: to stay by the Lord, or to do as the first disciples did and desert him. The choice is ours.
If we do choose to stay close to the Lord and walk by his side, then as Jesus takes each step the horror of what is happening and what is ultimately going to happen becomes clearer and clearer. Everyone has gone, and it seems that even God the Father has gone. Clearly Jesus is desperate and in a voice of pain he cries out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabathani?”, which means “My God, my God, why have you deserted me?” Our hearts are breaking and we can do nothing.
I am sure many of us have been bombarded by the news with all the updates on Coronavirus. You have seen and witnessed for yourself so many disturbing cases of people dying and the fatality rate keeps going up. In various distressing situations, many doctors and nurses could only do their best to relieve the pain and suffering of their patients and save as many lives as possible. Those people who had suffered and died, and those who are suffering right now, may also cry out in agony like Jesus: “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
The passion of Jesus Christ can be very distressing for us as we also watch helplessly, unable to do a thing. There is nothing we can do and we too may be tempted to cry out in our anguish: “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
As we commemorate Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord today, may we truly experience the closeness of Christ to us even in our very challenging circumstances due to world health crisis. Let us pray that we may behold a most wonderful thing of our faith to know that Jesus gave himself over to suffer and die for all of us.