"Humbler yet, even to accepting death"
(Readings: Commemoration of the Lord's Entrance into Jerusalem - Matthew 21:1-11; Mass - Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14 - 27:66)
I. The Palm Sunday liturgy commemorates the final phase of Jesus' work on earth. Before Mass we begin by recalling Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, when the crowds greeted him as the Messiah and King. That's what our palm leaves are for, and the procession, if we have one.
But of course the scene changes quickly. Jesus doesn't correspond to the people's image of the Messiah after all and the initial jubilation turns to rejection.
The crowds in Jerusalem had been waiting for a national leader sent by God to bring them liberation. The Messiah that they wanted and anticipated was an invincible figure, a conqueror, a figure of dominance and authority.
And from that point of view, Jesus' behaviour during his last days showed that he wasn't the Messiah. From the point of view of those sorts of expectations, Jesus was a great let-down. To begin with this was the conclusion that even his own followers drew.
It wasn't until after Christ's Resurrection that they were able to reach another conclusion. After the Resurrection they realised that their notion of what the Messiah was like had been completely wrong.
God had revealed himself in Jesus, and he had intervened in history, he had sent the Messiah, as the people had been expecting. But he didn't do this through some great display of power and authority. As all today's readings emphasise, God revealed himself in service for others, in powerlessness, self-emptying, and non-violence; eventually even in the surrender of his life on the Cross.
II. The one theme that runs through the whole of Holy Week, I would suggest, is that the way Jesus died was consistent with the way he had lived.
At the start of his ministry, during his long period in the desert, Jesus rejected the temptation to win people over by worldly means. He didn't try to gather power and money and influence and use them for the furtherance of his ministry. Christ had none of the air of superiority of people who are successful in material terms and looked up to by everyone.
He rejected any suggestion that he should go down those paths as temptations from the devil and obstacles to the genuine working of the Holy Spirit. Later on he gave the disciples plenty of examples of the way that power-relations take shape among human beings, and he said: "This is not how it is to be among you".
So the way Jesus went to his death was consistent with, and followed on from, the way he had conducted his life. To be faithful to God, and to reveal God's real character, he could only make him present in poverty and powerlessness and sacrifice.
It's something that we need to reflect on all the time, because its easy to slip back into more worldly or more human notions of what God is like. We'd feel more comfortable - and it's only natural - if our religion was somehow more influential, more prestigious in mainstream society, not so weak and failing, not so often on the receiving end of ridicule and mockery.
Today's liturgy, and the whole of the Holy Week liturgy, helps us avoid that danger, because Holy Week is a step by step remembrance, or commemoration, of the original events that make up the Paschal Mystery as we've come to call it - the mystery of God entering into our human history to bring about our salvation, and not only doing that but, as Saint Paul says, doing it by assuming the status of a servant and accepting death on the cross.
So let's try to keep these themes at the forefront of our mind as we follow Christ on the first Holy Week journey - from the jubilation of his triumphal entry to the capital city, through betrayal and death, to the glory and the victory of his resurrection.