Holy Week: our victory and hope

Bp. Elmer’s homily on Palm Sunday, 5 April 2020

The Church around the world enters into the holiest week of all.  “Holy” means consecrated for the purpose of contemplating the acts of our Lord in His final days on earth.  In His final days, His every step was carefully taken, leading to suffering then to victory.  In the Garden, the virus of death entered humanity through Adam’s sin; ever since then, it has been destroying God’s creation.  In this Holy Week we witness the mighty works of God, by which He reversed the virus of sin and death and gave humanity hope.

Today we contemplate what our Lord experienced: feigned or fake worship, mockery, betrayal, total abandonment… He became the object of man’s cruelty in putting an innocent Man to death on a cross.  Humanity was oblivious and complicit, while the forces of darkness did not have a clue what was going on, but it only led to their defeat.

As Jesus enters into His final days, intensity increases.  One of the stabbing parts of Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ is when Jesus crawled to the cross, showing His determination and His love for humanity.  He demonstrated unparalleled obedience and humility by submitting to the will of the Father.

The way of humility

There is a story from the life of David that is similar to Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem in today’s Gospel.  In II Samuel 15:1-16:14, King David is portrayed fleeing from the rebellion of Absalom, his son, who planned to take his throne.  David crosses the valley of Kidron, ascending to the Mount of Olives, the king rejected by his people.  He leaves in disgrace, riding on a donkey, a poor man’s stallion, “the very image of meekness in the face of defeat”.  In his heart, however, is no bitterness; he bears his pain with patience and does not plan revenge.  He suffers further humiliation from those who seek to take advantage of his situation: one of his most trusted counsellors, Ahithophel, betrays him; other citizens join in cursing and mocking him.

What a contrast!  Whilst David is fleeing in defeat, Absalom is riding in a chariot with horses and fifty men running before him.  Absalom represents worldly power and worldly wisdom, contrasted with the meekness and humility of his father David.  At this point David says something remarkable: “If this is my end, Lord, so be it.”

This story of David points to Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, coupled with the prophecy of Zechariah.  While David flees the holy city, Jesus treads on the same path to enter the city.  In a similar way, our Lord rides in a donkey, comes down from the Mount of Olives, crosses the Kidron Valley and finally enters Jerusalem.  The King of the universe, the Creator of heaven and earth, riding on a donkey!  What a stark contrast with the spectacle many Romans saw when their emperor entered Rome riding on stallions or chariots, surrounded by guards, displaying human glory and power after defeating their enemy.  Many of the people of Jerusalem welcomed our Lord not as King of heaven and earth but as a political messiah.  Later the same crowd would shout, “Crucify Him!”

Today as we re-enact this entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem, deep in my heart I realise that it is my sin, my rebellion, my arrogance and pride, that led Jesus to the cross. As the people broke off branches of palms, we are to break the power of sin, hatred, pride, vengeance… and instead put on the love that is the bond of unity; let us put on and clothe ourselves with simplicity and humility.  Some laid their outer garments on the Lord’s path: let us indeed lay down our lives to the Lord, to receive His resurrection life.

The cross is the only victory and our only hope

The victory over this pandemic is the cross.  Together this Holy Week, let us lift up high the cross of our Lord: this is our only victory, the only hope of humanity.  80 doctors have died in Italy, helping people; 30 nurses have been infected and two have taken their own lives; in Spain more than 10,000 have passed away.  Man doesn’t have any solution – I don’t mean to demean our efforts, but without God’s help and intervention, without Him manifesting and demonstrating His mighty works in our midst, I don’t know if there is hope.   But the truth is that we have hope, because we are celebrating this week exactly what defeated the virus that destroyed humanity – so join me from today.  The cross is abhorrent, a scorn to the enemy, because it reminds him of his utter defeat.  This virus will be defeated, not by the works of man but by the works of God through the hands of man.  This Holy Week, let us proclaim the very victory that we have in Christ Jesus.

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