Sunday, 28 March 2021 : Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday we mark the occasion of the Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, and on this day we begin the solemn celebrations of the Holy Week. This marks the last week in which the culmination of the Lord’s mission in this world. Throughout this season of Lent, we have been preparing ourselves physically and spiritually to celebrate this most important moment in the history of the world and all mankind, the moment when God Himself came to save us.

This day we remember the moment when the Lord came down to Jerusalem hailed as a King, cheered on and praised by many who were there to welcome Him, just as prophesied in the Scriptures by the prophets of the Lord, as the King riding on a donkey entering into His city mentioned by the prophet Zechariah, ‘See Jerusalem, your King is coming to you, righteous and bringing salvation, riding on a humble donkey.’

This was not Jesus’ first time entering Jerusalem, as evidenced from the Gospels that He had been in Jerusalem a few times before, not least when He was consecrated to God at His circumcision and presentation to God, and when He was just twelve years old and was left at the Temple, and on other occasions during His ministry when He came and taught the people at the Temple and other places throughout Jerusalem and Judea.

However, that time, the Lord came to Jerusalem for the one last and final time, when He would embark on the final part of His mission in fulfilling what the Lord had promised us all mankind, His beloved ones, to save us and to rescue us from the bondage of sin and death, from the tyranny and the enslavement of the devil, which He had done by His Passion, that is His suffering and His death on the Cross.

The word Passion itself came from the Latin ‘passus sum’, which means to endure and persevere through something, and in this case, it is the sufferings, the trials and pain that the Lord has suffered and endured, all the humiliation and horrible treatment He experienced at the hands of His enemies and tormentors. All of these He had willingly done, because of the great love that He has, for each and every single one of us, without exception.

We remember that the Lord so loved the world, all of us mankind, that He sent us His only begotten Son, according to the Gospel of St. John, that through Him we are to find salvation and not perish, and through Christ, God’s own Son, we have been brought to the hope of a new and graceful existence, a way to eternal life, and to be reconciled with God, our loving Father, Lord and Creator.

In this we have seen the most wonderful love of God, presented to us through Christ, the One proclaimed as King and Holy One of God by the crowd of people in Jerusalem, welcomed with much festivities and with palm branches, the Son and Heir of David Who has come to claim the kingdom of His forefather David, king of all Israel. Yet, do we all realise that the same crowd who hailed Jesus as King and praised Him wonderfully with palm branches in hand were perhaps the same ones who then cried out, ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’ in just a few days afterwards?

For those who followed the Lord Jesus, like His disciples and others, it might seem that the moment of the entry to Jerusalem was indeed a triumphant moment as the Lord was hailed as King and many saw Him as someone who could liberate them from the rule of the Romans. But, the moment that they saw the Lord being accused of blasphemy and of sin against God and nation, they turned against Him and became His accusers instead. Those who remained faithful, like the Apostles, hid themselves in fear and were scattered.

The Lord knew exactly what would happen to Him, and He had already mentioned it on several occasions, how He would be betrayed even by those close to Him, one of His own Twelve would be the one to hand Him over to the Sanhedrin, be arrested and then condemned to death, suffering a most painful and humiliating death on the Cross. Knowing all these, the Lord Himself did agonise over it at the Gardens of Gethsemane just prior to His arrest, the weight of the whole responsibility that He was to bear, and yet, He obeyed completely to the will of His heavenly Father.

It is St. Paul spoke of in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in Philippi, the Epistle to the Philippians, when he spoke of Christ, obedient unto death on the Cross, humbling Himself and emptying Himself of His divinity and glory, allowing Himself to be scourged, punished and to endure the greatest of pain, sorrow and suffering, bearing all the consequences and punishments that we should have suffered instead because of our many sins.

Christ, Our Lord, is the New Adam, the New Man, Who obeyed God so completely and dedicated Himself so thoroughly, in contrast with the old Adam, and thus, won for us all the victory against sin. While Adam fell into sin and corruption from that sin because he was unable to resist the temptations to sin, and thus fell by his disobedience, it was Christ’s obedience, emptying Himself of all glory, that led to our salvation.

For He offered Himself, as a worthy and perfect sacrifice, both as the High Priest of all, and as the Paschal Lamb to be sacrificed Himself, on the Altar of the Cross. And indeed, the Cross is also the Throne of our King, just as the title placed on the Cross, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, and also thus, King of all of us, King of Kings. There He is, on the Cross, suffering and dying for us, for as our King, He desires nothing less than our happiness and freedom from the tyranny of sin.

It was this that brings us to the Passion of Our Lord, as this Passion, the sufferings Christ suffered for us, shows us all His compassionate love. The word compassion itself again came from the root word of Passion, cum passus sum, meaning to endure and persevere together with us, to be with us through our sufferings, to sympathise with us not just through words but also through concrete action, as He was there up on the Cross, bloody and bruised, shedding His Blood and rending His Body for us all.

Through Christ’s obedience, and by bearing all of our sins to Himself, by uniting us all in our humanity to His own humanity, Christ suffered and died, so that by His death, we may gain access to new and everlasting life. And thus, today this Palm Sunday we mark the beginning of this intense culmination of the Lord’s ministry, the beginning of this great Passion of Our Lord, as we witness and are reminded yet again of all that the Lord had done for our sake, out of enduring love for us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we now enter into this Holy Week proper, are we going to celebrate it solemnly and properly, with clear understanding and appreciation? Or are we going to treat it just like any other week without any distinction? Let us think of how we can make our Holy Week meaningful and good, that we may benefit as much as possible, and become ever closer to God, being more faithful and dedicated to Him.

Let us all focus our attention on the Christ Crucified, and remind ourselves of what a wonderful grace and privilege we have received, to be beloved by God so much that He was willing to do all these for our sake. As we look on our Lord crucified, let us remember that His every wounds are our sins, our transgressions, our wickedness, and all that we have done which were in contradiction to the way of the Lord.

Christ endured all that pain and suffering, brothers and sisters in Christ. Are we still insisting on following the wrong path in life, in doing what is against God, and inflicting those wounds that we have seen on our Lord? The Lord did indeed suffer, in His humanity, and He did indeed die, suffering all these so that we may live. Let us all appreciate everything that He had done for us, and strive to do our best in life to be more and more committed, to be closer to God and to love Him more.

Let us all enter into this most solemn time of the Holy Week with clear focus on the Lord, on His Passion and suffering, His love and the great compassion He has shown to each and every one of us. Let us all be exemplary in our faith and be good role model to one another so that we may help our fellow brothers and sisters to find our way together to the salvation and eternal life in God. May God, our Crucified Christ, Our most loving Saviour, be with us all as we journey through this Holy Week, that we may come to share ever more deeply in the mysteries of His Passion, His suffering, death and Resurrection. Amen.

Sunday, 28 March 2021 : Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord (Passion Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 14 : 1 – Mark 15 : 47

It was now two days before the Feast of the Passover and Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the teachers of the Law were looking for a way to arrest Jesus on a false charge, and put Him to death; but they said, “Not during the Festival, for there might be trouble among the people.”

Jesus was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper. As He was reclining at dinner, a woman entered carrying an alabaster jar of expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfumed oil on Jesus’ head. Then some of them became angry and said, “What a useless waste of perfume. It could have been sold for more than three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor.” And they criticised her.

But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why are you troubling her? What she has just done for Me is a very charitable work. At any time you can help the poor, for you always have them with you; but you will not have Me forever. This woman did what she had to do : she anointed My Body for burial, before I die. Truly, I say to you, wherever the Good News is proclaimed, and this will be throughout the world, what she has done will be told in praise of her.”

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went off to the chief priests, in order to betray Jesus to them. On hearing him, they were excited and promised to give him money. So Judas started planning the best way to hand Jesus over to them.

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the day when the Passover Lamb was killed, disciples asked Him, “Where would you have us to go to prepare the Passover meal for You?” So Jesus sent two of His disciples with these instructions, “Go into the city, and there, a man will come to you carrying a jar of water.”

“Follow him to the house he enters and say to the owner, ‘The Master says, Where is the room where I may eat the Passover meal with My disciples?’ Then He will show you a large room upstairs, already arranged and furnished. There, you will prepare for us.”

The disciples went off. When they reached the city, they found everything just as Jesus had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal. When it was evening, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were at table eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, one of you will betray Me, one who shares My meal.”

They were deeply distressed at hearing this and asked Him, one after the other, “You do not mean me, do You?” And Jesus answered, “It is one of you Twelve, one who dips his bread in the dish with Me. The Son of Man is going as the Scriptures say He will. But alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed; better for him if he had never been born.”

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them. And He said, “Take this. It is My Body.” Then He took a cup, and after He had given thanks, He passed it to them and they all drank from it. And He said, “This is My Blood, the Blood of the Covenant, poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not taste the fruit of the vine again, until that day when I drink the new wine in the kingdom of God.”

After singing psalms of praise, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “All of you will be dismayed and fall away; for the Scripture says : I will strike the Shepherd and the sheep will be scattered. But after I am raised, I will go to Galilee ahead of you.”

Then Peter said to Him, “Even though all the others fall away, I will not.” And Jesus replied, “Truly I say to you, today, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” But Peter insisted, “Though I have to die with You, I will never deny You.” And all of them said the same.

They came to a place which is called Gethsemane; and Jesus said to His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” But He took Peter, James and John along with Him, and, becoming filled with fear and distress, He said to them, “My soul is full of sorrow, even to death. Remain here and stay awake.”

Then He went a little further on and fell on the ground, praying that, if possible, this hour might pass Him by. Jesus said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me. Yet, not what I want, but what You want.” Then He came and found them asleep; and He said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not stay awake for one hour? Stay awake and pray, all of you, so that you may not slip into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the body is weak.”

And, going away, He prayed, saying the same words. When He came back to the disciples, He found them asleep again. They could not keep their eyes open; and they did not know what to say to Him. When He came back the third time, He said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? It is all over, the time has come : the Son of Man is now given into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us go! Look : the one who betrays Me is approaching.”

While Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, came up. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, who had been sent by the chief priests, the teachers of the Law and the elders. The traitor had arranged a signal for them, “The One I kiss, He is the Man. Arrest Him, and take Him away under guard.”

So, when He came, He went directly to Jesus, and said, “Master! Master!” and kissed Him. Then they seized Jesus and arrested Him. One of the bystanders drew his sword and struck out at the High Priest’s servant, cutting off his ear. Jesus turned to them and said, “So, you have set out against a robber! Did you need swords and clubs to arrest Me? Day after day, I was among you, teaching in the Temple, and you did not arrest Me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.”

Then they all deserted Him and fled. A young man, covered by nothing but a linen cloth, followed Jesus. When they took hold of him, he left the cloth in their hands and fled away naked. They led Jesus to the High Priest; and all the chief priests assembled, with the elders and the teachers of the Law. Peter had followed Him at a distance; and went right into the courtyard of the High Priest, where he sat with the guards, warming himself at the fire.

Now the chief priests and the whole Council tried to find some evidence against Jesus so that they might put Him to death; but they were unable to find anything. Even though many came up to speak falsely against Him, their evidence did not agree. At last, some stood up and gave this false witness : “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this Temple made by human hands, and, in three days, I will build another, not made by human hands.” But even so, their evidence did not agree.

The High Priest then stood up in the midst of them and asked Jesus, “Have You no answer at all? What about this evidence against You?” But Jesus was silent and made no reply. The High Priest put a second question to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” Then Jesus answered, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Most Powerful, and coming with the clouds of heaven around Him.”

Then the High Priest, tearing his garments to show his horror, said, “What more evidence do we need? You have just heard His blasphemous words. What is your decision?” They all condemned Jesus, saying, “He must die.” Some of them began to spit on Jesus; and, blindfolding Him, they struck Him and said, “Play the prophet!” And the guards set upon Him with blows.

While Peter was below, in the courtyard, a servant girl of the High Priest came by. Noticing Peter beside the fire, she looked straight at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the Nazarene.” But he denied it, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out through the gateway, and a cock crowed.

The servant girl saw him there and told the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But Peter denied it again. After a little while, those standing nearby said to Peter, “Of course you are one of them; you are a Galilean, are you not?” And Peter began to justify himself with curses and oaths, “I do not know the Man you are talking about.”

Just then a cock crowed a second time, and Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Early in the morning, the chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the Law (that is, the whole Council or Sanhedrin) had their plan ready. They put Jesus in chains, led Him away and handed Him over to Pilate. Pilate asked Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “You say so.” As the chief priests accused Jesus of many things, Pilate asked Him again, “Have You no answer at all? See how many charges they bring against You.”

But Jesus gave no further answers, much to Pilate’s surprise. At every Passover festival, Pilate used to free any prisoner the people asked for. Now there was a man called Barabbas, jailed with the rioters who had committed murder in the uprising. When the crowd went up to ask Pilate the usual favour, he said to them, “Do you want me to set free the King of the Jews?” for he realised that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him out of envy.

But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask, instead, for the release of Barabbas. Pilate replied, “And what shall I do with the Man you call King of the Jews?” The crowd shouted back, “Crucify Him!” Pilate asked, “What evil has He done?” But they shouted the louder, “Crucify Him!”

As Pilate wanted to please the people, He freed Barabbas, and, having had Jesus flogged, Pilate handed Him over to be crucified. The soldiers took Him inside the courtyard, known as the Praetorium, and called the rest of their companions. They clothed Him in a purple cloak, and twisting a crown of thorns, they forced it onto His head. Then they began saluting Him, “Long life to the King of the Jews!” With a stick they gave Him blows on the head and spat on Him; then they knelt down, pretending to worship Him.

When they had finished mocking Him, they pulled off the purple cloak and put His own clothes on Him. The soldiers led Him out of the city to crucify Him. On the way, they met Simon of Cyrene, father of Alexander and Rufus, who was coming in from the country; and forced him to carry the cross of Jesus. When they had led Him to the place called Golgotha, which means the Skull, they offered Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He would not take it.

Then they nailed Him to the cross, and divided His clothes among themselves, casting lots to decide what every man should take. It was about nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified Him. The statements of His offence was displayed above His head, and it read, “The King of the Jews.” They also crucified two robbers with Him, one on His right and one on His left. And the Scripture was fulfilled which says : ‘And with lawless ones He was numbered.’

People passing by laughed at Him, shook their heads and jeered, “Aha! So, You are able to tear down the Temple and build it up in three days? Save Yourself now, and come down from the cross!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the Law mocked Him, saying to one another, “The Man Who saved others cannot save Himself. Let us see the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from His cross, and then we will believe in Him.” Even the men who were crucified with Jesus insulted Him.

When noon came, darkness fell over the whole land and lasted until three o’clock; and at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why have You deserted Me?” As soon as they heard these words, some of the bystanders said, “Listen! He is calling for Elijah.” And one of them went quickly to fill a sponge with bitter wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to Him to drink, saying, “Now let us see whether Elijah comes to take Him down.”

But Jesus uttered a loud cry and gave up His Spirit. And immediately, the curtain that enclosed the Temple Sanctuary was torn in two, from top to bottom. The captain, who was standing in front of Him, saw how Jesus died and heard the cry He gave; and he said, “Truly, this Man was the Son of God.”

There were also some women watching from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome, who had followed Jesus when He was in Galilee and saw to His needs. There were also others who had come up with Him to Jerusalem.

It was now evening, and, as it was Preparation Day, that is the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea boldly went to Pilate and asked for the Body of Jesus. Joseph was a respected member of the Council, who was, himself, waiting for the kingdom of God. Pilate was surprised that Jesus should have died so soon; so he summoned the captain and inquired if Jesus was already dead. After hearing the captain, he let Joseph have the Body.

Joseph took it down and wrapped it in the linen sheet he had brought. He laid the Body in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock, and rolled a stone across the entrance to the tomb. Now Mary of Magdala and Mary the mother of Joses took note of where the Body had been laid.

Alternative reading (shorter version)

Mark 15 : 1-39

Early in the morning, the chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the Law (that is, the whole Council or Sanhedrin) had their plan ready. They put Jesus in chains, led Him away and handed Him over to Pilate. Pilate asked Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “You say so.” As the chief priests accused Jesus of many things, Pilate asked Him again, “Have You no answer at all? See how many charges they bring against You.”

But Jesus gave no further answers, much to Pilate’s surprise. At every Passover festival, Pilate used to free any prisoner the people asked for. Now there was a man called Barabbas, jailed with the rioters who had committed murder in the uprising. When the crowd went up to ask Pilate the usual favour, he said to them, “Do you want me to set free the King of the Jews?” for he realised that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him out of envy.

But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask, instead, for the release of Barabbas. Pilate replied, “And what shall I do with the Man you call King of the Jews?” The crowd shouted back, “Crucify Him!” Pilate asked, “What evil has He done?” But they shouted the louder, “Crucify Him!”

As Pilate wanted to please the people, He freed Barabbas, and, having had Jesus flogged, Pilate handed Him over to be crucified. The soldiers took Him inside the courtyard, known as the Praetorium, and called the rest of their companions. They clothed Him in a purple cloak, and twisting a crown of thorns, they forced it onto His head. Then they began saluting Him, “Long life to the King of the Jews!” With a stick they gave Him blows on the head and spat on Him; then they knelt down, pretending to worship Him.

When they had finished mocking Him, they pulled off the purple cloak and put His own clothes on Him. The soldiers led Him out of the city to crucify Him. On the way, they met Simon of Cyrene, father of Alexander and Rufus, who was coming in from the country; and forced him to carry the cross of Jesus. When they had led Him to the place called Golgotha, which means the Skull, they offered Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He would not take it.

Then they nailed Him to the cross, and divided His clothes among themselves, casting lots to decide what every man should take. It was about nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified Him. The statements of His offence was displayed above His head, and it read, “The King of the Jews.” They also crucified two robbers with Him, one on His right and one on His left. And the Scripture was fulfilled which says : ‘And with lawless ones He was numbered.’

People passing by laughed at Him, shook their heads and jeered, “Aha! So, You are able to tear down the Temple and build it up in three days? Save Yourself now, and come down from the cross!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the Law mocked Him, saying to one another, “The Man Who saved others cannot save Himself. Let us see the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from His cross, and then we will believe in Him.” Even the men who were crucified with Jesus insulted Him.

When noon came, darkness fell over the whole land and lasted until three o’clock; and at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why have You deserted Me?” As soon as they heard these words, some of the bystanders said, “Listen! He is calling for Elijah.” And one of them went quickly to fill a sponge with bitter wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to Him to drink, saying, “Now let us see whether Elijah comes to take Him down.”

But Jesus uttered a loud cry and gave up His Spirit. And immediately, the curtain that enclosed the Temple Sanctuary was torn in two, from top to bottom. The captain, who was standing in front of Him, saw how Jesus died and heard the cry He gave; and he said, “Truly, this Man was the Son of God.”

Sunday, 28 March 2021 : Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Philippians 2 : 6-11

Though He was in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking on the nature of a servant, made in human likeness, and in His appearance found as a Man.

He humbled Himself by being obedient to death, death on the cross. That is why God exalted Him and gave Him the Name which outshines all names, so that at the Name of Jesus all knees should bend in heaven, on earth and among the dead, and all tongues proclaim that Christ Jesus is the Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Sunday, 28 March 2021 : Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 21 : 8-9, 17-18a, 19-20, 23-24

All who see Me make a jest of Me; they sneer and shake their heads. “He put His trust in the Lord, let the Lord rescue Him! If the Lord is His friend, let Him help Him!”

Round about Me are vicious dogs, villainous rogues encircling Me. They have tied up My hands and feet. They can count all My bones.

Dividing My garments among them and casting lots for My raiment. O Lord, be not far from Me! O My strength, come quickly to My help.

I will proclaim Your Name to My brothers. I will praise You in the assembly. “All you who fear the Lord, praise Him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify Him! All you sons of Israel, revere Him!