Prairie Messenger Header

Liturgy and Life

By Bob Williston




Passion Sunday
March 25, 2018

Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalm 22
Philippians 2:6-11
Mark 14:1 - 15:47


There is no liturgy in the Christian calendar that I wrestle with more than this “Passion/Palm Sunday.” It begins with the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It calls from the worshipper an energetic “hosanna” in response to the “glory” revealed in the person of Jesus as he rides a donkey into the city with all the regal pomp that a king would require. Palm branches sway in praise to the king. After the Gospel is proclaimed, usually at the back of the church, there is a grand procession to the front sanctuary. Mark tells us that cloaks are thrown across the path as a sign of Jesus’ special identity. Every mass we remember this as we proclaim: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts . . . Hosanna in the highest!” After all, it is the only fitting response to the revelation that Jesus, the king, comes to Jerusalem with great fanfare and “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

In Luke’s Gospel the Pharisees reprimand Jesus, telling him to “check his disciples!” Such is the triumph of this moment that Jesus says to them: “even if I silenced them, the stones will cry out!” (I always hear in my musical head the song from “Jesus Christ Superstar”: “If every tongue were still the noise would still continue. The rocks and stone themselves would start to sing: Hosanna . . .”)

Now if the Liturgy of the Word ended here, we might walk away with an incredible feeling of awe and worship and bask in the glory of the one who blessedly comes in the name of the Lord! But no, we are plunged immediately into the depths of Jesus’ passion and death. Beginning with Isaiah’s suffering servant song, to Psalm 22, a cry of abandonment, and Paul’s Philippians hymn, we are set up for the intense story of Jesus’ suffering and tortuous death.

In the mystery of this moment, we are asked to enter deeply into the two polarities of life itself. We could call these “Moments of Glory” and “Moments of Suffering.” We could also pose it as the answer to “who” Jesus is and “what” Jesus does. The two verses in Paul’s letter point to them both. Jesus was both the suffering servant who empties himself totally, and he was also given the “name above all names, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow and every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord!”

Henri Nouwen comments on this mystery when he calls this “the descending way.” He writes: “It is the way of suffering. But it is also the way of healing. It is the way of tears, but tears that turn into joy. It is the way of persecution, oppression, martyrdom and death, but also the way to the full disclosure of God’s love.” Here we glimpse the mystery of God’s incarnation. God became human not only to act among us but also to be the recipient of our responses” (Finding My Way Home).

But when we think about this further, isn’t every experience of “glory” tinged with a touch of sadness? And further, do we not sense a daybreak into glory even when we are going through intense suffering? If you witnessed the opening of the Olympic Games this year, they ended with the wonderful and ancient Chinese symbol of “Yin/Yang.” It seems that all of life has both of these realities contained in some kind of fragile balance.

We recently journeyed with my 89-year-old mother-in-law after she broke a hip for the second time. The pain and suffering were almost unbearable for her and for her seven children. But even through all of this, the light of grace was how they shared in the burden of care that brought them much closer together than had she died suddenly and unexpectedly. Their passionate love for their mother and grandmother was fully realized as they took their place at her bedside through the whole ordeal.

One other “Yin/Yang” moment was the call I received from the Prairie Messenger staff to write a monthly article on the readings of that Sunday. It has been a wonderful experience of renewing and sharing my faith with the readers. However, after a year of this gift, it was announced that they will be ending their publication in May. Many have expressed their affection and love for the spiritual food they have received through this paper. I too will miss the articles and especially the bird’s-eye view of faith on the Prairies!

I wrote a theme song for a Catholic Health Association Convention some years ago called “A Legacy of Hope.” These lyrics seem to say it for me: In our living and our dying, “helloing” and “good-bye-ing.”

We’ll always bear these marks of love as a Legacy of Hope.

May God bless you all with a Spirit-filled Holy Week that ends in the Easter triumph of Jesus, risen from the dead!

Williston gives parish missions and is a missionary with the Redemptorists. He is also a song writer and recording artist.