Sunday, April 14, 2019

Head to Heart to Hands

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord (C)
Brief Homily at Solemn Entrance

Reading: Luke 19:28-40

The Lord has need of it. This is the answer that the disciples give to the one who asks them why they are untying the colt, the young donkey. But why, we may wonder, does the Lord need the colt? Why doesn’t he just walk like everyone else on the road to Jerusalem? The answer to this question is clear. The Lord needs the donkey not so much as a means of transport, but more as a sign of deeper meaning.

By riding into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey, the Lord wants to signal to everyone the deeper meaning of what is about to happen to him in the coming week. He wants to show us that by being condemned as a criminal, he is actually also being crowned as king. That by submitting himself to the reign of darkness, he is actually ushering in the kingdom of God. A kingdom of justice and love and peace.

Isn’t this why the Lord refuses to silence his disciples when they cry out loudly in joyful acclamation? And isn’t this also why it is fitting that we too are gathered here this morning to do the same? Like those early disciples, we too want to rejoice and praise God for the mighty works that we have seen. We too want to exclaim: Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! 

Main Homily

Picture: cc Sprogz

My dear friends, as you know, it’s sometimes said that the longest journey is the one from the head to the heart. And perhaps many of us would agree. For example, even though I may know very well that God loves me, don’t I still sometimes feel envious that God seems to favour someone else over me? Or insecure and anxious about my life, as though God has somehow forgotten or forsaken me? Don’t these reactions of mine indicate that the knowledge of God’s love, which I have in my head, still has a ways to go to penetrate my heart?

And yet, long though the distance from head to heart may be, isn’t the journey from the heart to the hands no less difficult? Isn’t this the experience of Simon Peter? Lord, I would be ready to go to prison with you, and to death, the first pope boldly tells Jesus at the Last Supper. No doubt expressing an intention he firmly holds in his heart. And yet, when faced with the possibility of actually sharing the Lord’s fate, Peter backs down. Three times he disowns his Master, before bitterly weeping over his own cowardice. Regretting his failure to translate his good intentions into concrete action.

Nor is Peter the only one who finds this difficult. Doesn’t the Roman governor experience the same thing? Pontius Pilate knows very well that the Lord is innocent. And he is even anxious to set Jesus free. Yet, although he has the authority to do so, like Peter, Pilate finally backs down. He succumbs to popular pressure. He hands Jesus over to those who want to kill him.

And lest I be too quick to point fingers at Peter and Pilate, don’t I too so often stumble on the road between heart and hands? Don’t I too find it difficult to translate the beliefs I profess every Sunday into faithful practice on the other days of the week? And isn’t this one good reason why I need to pay close attention to all that Jesus goes through in Holy Week? For if there is one striking thing about the Lord’s experience over these most solemn and holiest of days, it is that he courageously carries out every loving intention in his Sacred Heart.

I have longed to eat this passover with you before I suffer. These words of Jesus, at the beginning of today’s gospel, show us what the Lord holds in his heart. He longs not just to share a meal with us, but to commit his whole life to us. This is my body which will be given for you… This cup is the new covenant in my blood which will be poured out for you… And all the love that the Lord holds in his heart, he faithfully transmits, not just through his hands, but through every part of his tortured body. I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard; I did not cover my face against insult and spittle… The Lord empties himself, even to accepting death on a cross…

And lest I am tempted to think that it was easier for him than it is for me, the gospel reminds us that, on the Mount of Olives, Jesus was in such anguish that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. No, it was not easier for him. What made it perhaps more bearable, was that he was humble enough to acknowledge his anguish in prayer before his heavenly Father, and to receive and rely on the strength the angel brought him.

Sisters and brothers, it has also been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. As we accompany Jesus on the way of the Cross this week, what step will you be taking today?

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