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Benedict XVI: Palm Sunday means following Jesus Christ
The Gospel for the blessing of the palms begins with the phrase: "Jesus went ahead of everyone going up to Jerusalem" (Luke 19:28). Immediately at the beginning of the liturgy the Church anticipates her response to the Gospel, saying, "Let us follow the Lord." With that the theme of Palm Sunday is clearly expressed. It is about following.
Being Christian means seeing the way of Jesus Christ as the right way of being human - as that way that leads to the goal, to a humanity that is fully realised and authentic. It is a pilgrimage, it is a going with Jesus Christ. A going in that direction that he has pointed out to us and is pointing out to us.
Ascent to God
But what direction are we talking about? How do we find it? The line from the Gospel offers two indications in this connection. In the first place it says that it is a matter of an ascent. This has in the first place a very literal meaning. Jericho, where the last stage of Jesus' pilgrimage began, is 250 metres below sea-level while Jerusalem - the goal of the journey - is 740-780 metres above sea level: an ascent of almost 1,000 metres.
But this external route is above all an image of the interior movement of existence, which occurs in the following of Christ: an ascent to the true height of being human. Man can choose an easy path and avoid all toil. He can also descend to what is lower. He can sink into lies and dishonesty.
Jesus goes ahead of us, and he goes up to what is above. He leads us to what is great, pure; he leads us to the healthy air of the heights: to life according to truth, to the courage that does not let itself be intimidated by the gossip of dominant opinions, to the patience that stands up for and supports the other. He leads us to availability to the suffering, to the abandoned, to the loyalty that stands with the other even when the situation makes it difficult.
He leads us to availability, to bring help to the goodness that does not let itself be disarmed, not even by ingratitude. He leads us to love - he leads us to God.
If Jesus goes up to Jerusalem together with Israel on pilgrimage, he goes there to celebrate the Passover with Israel: the memorial of Israel's liberation - a memorial that is always at the same time hope for the definitive liberation that God will give. And Jesus goes to this feast with the awareness that he himself is the Lamb spoken of in the Book of Exodus: a male lamb without blemish, which at twilight will be slaughtered before all of Israel "as a perpetual institution" (cf. Exodus 12:5-6, 14).
In the end Jesus knows that his way goes beyond this: It will not end in the cross. He knows that his way will tear away the veil between this world and God's world that he will ascend to the throne of God and reconcile God and man in his body.
He knows that his risen body will be the new sacrifice and the new Temple that around him in the ranks of the angels and saints there will be formed the new Jerusalem that is in heaven and nevertheless also on earth.
His way leads beyond the summit of the Temple Mount to the height of God himself. This is the great ascent to which he calls all of us. He always remains with us on earth and having already arrived [in heaven] with God he leads us on earth and beyond the earth.
Humbly believing with the Church, like being bound together in a roped party ascending to God, is an essential condition for following Christ: not acting as the owners of the Word of God, not chasing after a mistaken idea of emancipation - this is also part of being together in the roped party.
The humility of "being-with" is essential to the ascent. Letting the Lord take us by the hand through the sacraments is another part of it. We let ourselves be purified and strengthened by him, we let ourselves accept the discipline of the ascent, even if we are tired.
At the end of the Gospel for the blessing of the palms we hear the acclamation with which the pilgrims greet Jesus at the gates of Jerusalem. They are the words of Psalm 118 (117), that originally the priests proclaimed to the pilgrims from the Holy City but that, after a period, became an expression of messianic hope: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" (Psalm 118; Luke 19:38). The pilgrims see in Jesus the one whom they have waited for, who comes in the name of the Lord, indeed, according to the St Luke's Gospel, they insert another word: "Blessed is he who comes, the king, in the name of the Lord."
May he who comes in the name of the Lord bring to earth what is in heaven. The Church, before the Eucharistic consecration, sings the words of the Psalm with which Jesus is greeted before his entrance into the Holy City. It greets Jesus as the King who, coming from God, enters in our midst in God's name.
The above are extracts from Benedict XVI's 2010 Palm Sunday homily given during Mass in St Peter's Square (Vatican Information Service).
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 24 No 3 (April 2011), p. 20
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