A Cycle – Palm Sunday 23
The prophets in the Old Testament prepared us for this day. Immediately after Jesus came out of the desert after being baptized by John, He proclaimed “the Kingdom of God is at Hand.” His first pronouncement ushered in the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth where we are nurtured, schooled and live with confident assurance that our God is always with us. It is in that kingdom where we hear Jesus during his final day, begging God to let the cup pass. But also acknowledging if it does not pass God will give Him the grace to overcome.
Jesus knew the plan of God to overcome our sinfulness was for blood to be shed. The Israelites were aware of the sacrifice needed. They were given a visual image by Moses when he described the formula for forgiveness. That image is reinforced in the Book Leviticus where the sacrifice for sin is to be offered by the priest for the whole tribe of Israel. That one day stands out from the individual sacrifices to be offered. It is on that one day when the sins of everyone are carried away. On the Feast of Atonement, one sacrifice is offered. One lamb on which “…all the sinful faults and all the sinful transgressions of all the Israelites was laid on the head of the lamb which was led off into the desert carrying away all their sins (Lev.16:20). Jesus understood as did John the Baptist when he pointed to Jesus and said “Behold the Lamb of God.”
Jesus willingly submits to God’s plan for our salvation and the key question I heard from a child was “why did God do it this way?” Why indeed is the question and we have great theological writings about the way but great theology does not answer the question of a 10 year old child. A child understands right from wrong and how wrong is punished and good is rewarded. They also understand how a stated punishment can be lessened if remorse is shown and their father’s wrath can be assuaged. But here is the human dilemma, we may show remorse, but our self-serving inclinations will cause us to sin again and again.
Adam and Eve’s sin does not seem big enough to the punishment of having to endure sickness, famines, hard work, disease, wars, rejection, immortality and losing intimacy with God. Yet if God forgave them and brought them back into His presence they would have sinned again and have kept sinning. The Holy God would no longer have a universe untainted by sin and sin cannot exist in the presence of God. Why did God do it this way? Because wrong must be punished, and sin cannot exist in the presence of God. Because God is loving and merciful, He sent Jesus to receive the wrath of God, the punishment of God for all sins of every generation. Because God loves us, He sent Jesus who willingly surrendered himself to take the punishment, the curse of sin from us so that the barrier of sin between us and God would be removed.
It is no different than two brothers doing something wrong and one accepts the punishment of the Father by taking the entire blame. This is what we are about to celebrate during the Triduum and during every mass. Knowing this should bring us great peace and a growing desire to live our life differently. We should become the woman at the well who ran to tell all those she avoided about Jesus. We should be like the man born blind from birth and willingly say to others, what I know is because of his grace I now see things differently. We are the prodigal son, returned and restored and given more than we expected to be given. But instead, we are the crowd who greeted Jesus with Hosannah’s and a few days later cry out to crucify him.
Why hasn’t the sacrifice of Jesus changed us into a grateful people who desire to grow into a deeper union with God? The most prevalent reason is because we have not allowed ourselves to personally experience forgiveness. Intellectually we have but not experientially. We need an encounter that goes beyond the emotion of encountering Jesus as he crowd did as he enters Jerusalem riding on an ass. We can attend a great retreat, a great conference, a great praise and worship service and be charged up but that feeling wanes until it is gone.
We need a Pentecost experience to change us and transform us from the inside out. We need the Spirit that Jesus promised He would send us to guide us and teach us and transform our hearts. We need to feel the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit as God promised us He would do. The truth is we will have grand celebrations beginning on Palm Sunday and flowing through Divine Mercy Sunday. But what we need more comes in 50 days on Pentecost because then the work of the Trinity will be complete. We will be transformed by the work of the Fathers Love, Jesus’s sacrifice and the Spirits transforming power flowing through us.