Sunday Sermon for March 29, 2015, Palm Sunday, Year B

Readings: Mk 11:1-10; Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1-15:47
Throughout the season of Lent there is a movement that brings us deeper and deeper into the events of our Lord’s saving work. There are specific points where we can note such a shift. Last Sunday marked one such shift; today marks another where we now narrow our focus more specifically onto the Passion of our Lord. Traditionally, the statues are covered and much of the sensible beauty is either removed or covered over, there are no flowers, and there was no instrumental music. This is to strip the senses of those things which could distract our focus and, thereby, help us to feel the external deprivations in order to heighten the spiritual experience.

As we recall today the triumphal entry of our Lord into Jerusalem and the events that followed within a week’s time we are being drawn into our own selves to consider these occurrences from a spiritual perspective. We have all experienced the pep rally kind of emotional fervor that can occur in certain instances. We have also experienced the emotional crash when things did not work out according to our pep rally mentality. On the natural level, that is what we see happening in the events we commemorate today and throughout the next week.

While it is good to experience some of the emotions that would, undoubtedly, have been experienced by those who loved and followed Jesus 2000 years ago, it is far more important to unite with our Lord spiritually. For Jesus these days were not about the emotions. Sure He was hailed, He was denied, He was ignored, He was treated unjustly, and He was crucified. But it was all spiritual for Him. Our hearts break when we think of the meeting he had with His Mother as He carried His Cross, but we cannot even begin to imagine what was happening spiritually between the two of them.

With so much that could be considered in the readings today, I want to focus in on a point that comes up in the first Gospel. As Jesus is riding into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey the people are crying out their hosannas before Him. We continue to do this at every Mass at the end of both the Sanctus and the Benedictus. The Church has chosen not to translate this word, but to keep it in its Hebrew form for all of us to use.

The word hosanna comes from two Hebrew words that mean “save us, we beg you.” The fact that the people are crying out this prayer as Jesus moves toward Jerusalem is very important. As we see in the first Gospel the people recognize that Jesus comes in the Name of the Lord and they clearly equate the events that are happening with the coming of the promised Kingdom of David. In other places we hear them calling out hosanna to the son of David. It is in these various contexts that the people are also praying for salvation from on high (hosanna in the highest).

All of this is to say that they recognized that Jesus is the Messiah. If this was just a emotional thing because they were caught up in what everyone else was doing, then there was no real faith behind the emotions. It may even be that some of these same people were caught up in the emotionally charged scene that took place outside of the Praetorium as their cries of “hosanna” turned to cries of “crucify Him.”

On the other hand, I suspect that there were many people in the crowd on Palm Sunday who did have a deeper faith and confidence that Jesus truly is the Messiah. The problem for most of them however, and we see this in the Apostles as well, is that they did not understand what that meant. Cheering for the king, cheering for the one you want to anoint as the leader is great, but the work of the Messiah was to suffer and to die. Only those who could go deep within themselves and unite with the Lord in the depths of their soul could have understood this. The same is true today.

We know, because we have been taught, about the necessity of our Lord’s Passion and death. However, unless we move deeper than the surface, we will not understand it. It is we who now cry out “hosanna” as we make an act of faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah of God and the Savior of the people. Only those with true faith and love will be willing to open their hearts to receive Him and be united with Him. Those who are engaged in the emotions will keep their distance. Each of us needs to examine our own heart and decide if we will draw near to Jesus on the Cross.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit