On Good Friday when we gather to commemorate the Passion and death of Jesus we always listen to the Gospel of John. On Palm Sunday each year we hear one of the three Synoptics: this year Luke. Every Palm Sunday I invite you to use the Gospel of today for prayerful reading and reflection during Holy Week. Luke 22: 14 – 23:56.
The story is the same. The reality of Jesus’ passion and death is the central historical truth for all humankind. Yet each Gospel contains some unique features that enrich our lives and guide our thoughts, leading us to a deeper love for Him who died for us and enkindling in our hearts a more pressing desire to be united with Him, transformed by Him, and be made whole through his salvific death on the cross.
1. The context is the Last Supper: .Jesus takes the bread and wine and giving it to his chosen ones, calls and designates them to continue to do this in His Name. They are given a share in his authority BUT THEY MUST EXERCISE IT AS SERVICE. Implicit in this is a message to us priests and bishops: Be ready to suffer. The privilege of leading the Church of God, acting in the name of Jesus the Priest, is to serve as he did and to suffer in union with him.
2. In the Garden, the focus is not on the sleeping disciples but on Jesus in his agony, Jesus in prayer to the Father. His is a cry of the heart to the Father to give him strength, the strength he needs humanly to do the will of the One who sent him. The agony, the struggle, the temptation to use worldly power in the face of those who come to destroy him may be great. But he resists the temptation, trusting in God. What an example for you and me to ponder as we see Him heal the ear of the servant and reject violence of every sort as an instrument of one’s own power. To be faithful we must be men and women of prayer as Jesus shows us.
3. At the supper a few hours earlier, Peter promised to be ever faithful and never deny Him. Jesus knew better and warned him: Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers. We know what happened in that courtyard when Peter was challenged. At that moment Luke tells us: Just as Peter was denying him, The Lord turned around and looked at Peter and Peter remembered. He wept bitterly. As Jesus looked at Peter, he looks at us. That look is meant to call us not to condemnation but to repentance. For, just as for Peter, so for us Jesus has prayed that we too turn back, turn back through the sacrament of penance, turn back to Him with hearts that are healed by him who loves us usque ad finem, even unto the end, death on a cross. How awesome is the mercy of God! How endless is his forgiving love!
4. As Jesus comes to the Place of the Skull, he encounters a crowd. So many of them jeering. But note who they are: the soldiers, the leaders, the powerful. There are others but they are silent. One carries the cross for him. Some women weep. A criminal repents. Mary stands at the cross. And thus he dies.
BUT LOOK. LOOK AROUND AT THOSE WHO WERE STANDING BY. THE SILENT ONES. THE ONES WHO LOVED HIM. THE ONES WHO WITNESSED HIS DEATH! First the centurion who proclaims: This man was innocent beyond a doubt. Then the people of the city: They returned home beating their breasts. They return! Then Joseph of Arimathea who, as a pious Jew, had not consented. Thus he, one of the faithful remnant, claims the body of the Lord and provides a fitting burial. And finally, the response of the women. They had come from Galilee with Him; they followed behind, saw the tomb and prepared to bring the spices to anoint his body after the Sabbath rest!
They are now the first witnesses. And they continue to be the witnesses to the world because that is the role of the Church of Jesus Christ!.
And we continue to do the same as Church today. Just as they witnessed that Friday night and that first Easter Sunday! Yes, my Friends, all of us here today, are by our very presence here, THE WITNESSES, WITNESSES TO THE WORLD THAT HE WHO FULFILLED THE WILL OF THE FATHER BY DYING ON THE CROSS HAS BEEN EXALTED AND GIVEN THE NAME ABOVE EVERY OTHER NAME SO THAT AT THE NAME OF JESUS EVERY TONGUE MIGHT PROCLAIM TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER: JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!