Throughout the Lenten season, we’ll be posting reflections for holy days and Sundays. These reflections are gleaned from Lenten reflection booklets which Pax Christi USA has been publishing for over 40 years, and their messages ring as true now as they did when they were first written. Click here to see all reflections as they are posted as well as links to other Lenten resources on our Lent 2021 webpage.

Today’s reflection is from Rev. Joseph Nangle, ofm, taken from the 1997 Lenten reflection booklet. Joe is a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C. and spent over 15 years working in Latin America. He is the author of Engaged Spirituality: Faith Life in the Heart of the Empire, among other books. He is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace.

reflection for PALM/PASSION SUNDAY, MARCH 28, 2021

by Joe Nangle, ofm

Mark 11:1-10 | Isaiah 50:4-7 | Philippians 2:6-11 | Mark 14:1-15:47

“At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.
And at three o’clock, Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachtani?’ which is translated,
‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:33-34)

We approach now the culminating days of Lent. In the span of the next eight days we shall move, all too quickly, through the events which we call Jesus’s Paschal Mystery—his sufferings and death and his Resurrection.

Observers have noted that Christians in Latin America place all the emphasis of this week on the sufferings and death of Jesus while we in North America tend to skip over these harsher realities to his resurrection.

Those who reflect on this essential difference in the way Holy Week and Easter are observed in the North and in the South ascribe it to differing experiences of life. The masses of people in Latin America have had little but suffering in their lives and relate gratefully to a God who bore the cross they know so well. We in North America have, by and large, known privilege so that our understanding of the Paschal Mystery is confined to the glories of Easter. A serious reflection on the readings and significance of Palm Sunday, therefore, seems quite in order for us in the affluent world. The significance of Easter might profit our brothers and sisters to the south of us.

Everything in today’s Liturgy of the Word speaks of decision and submission on Jesus’s part. The procession with palm branches opens the ritual, highlighting the Teacher’s determination to enter Jerusalem despite the knowledge that this is where he will meet his tragic end. True, he enters the city in triumph, but the rest of the day’s readings point to a total reversal only four days later.

For immediately, Isaiah, from a distance of seven centuries before these events, speaks of the One who would undergo inhuman cruelties in silence. The “Suffering Servant” prophecies speak shockingly of Jesus’s being crushed by evil forces.

We move to a reading from Paul, who, echoing Isaiah, speaks of One who “accepted death, even death on a cross!”

And most dramatically, we hear Mark’s Gospel and the stark details of Jesus’s last several hours—from his arrest, through his trial, sentencing, way of the Cross, and execution as a criminal among criminals. We cannot believe our ears as Jesus cries: “My God, my God, why have you foresaken me?”

As we stand before the scandal of the Cross, one question crowds in on the consciousness if we let it. Did God demand this cruel death of the Only-Begotten as some kind of appeasement for human offenses against God’s self? Is that the kind of vengeful God we believe in?

For our “answer” — in quotation marks because this whole matter is a mystery, the very mystery of human salvation — we turn to a remarkable Latin American theologian, Jon Sobrino, S.J. He asserts that the common understanding of Jesus’s Cross assumes that salvation consists in the pardon of sins but overlooks the broader understanding of salvation as the reign of God breaking in on human history. This partial understanding of Jesus’s passion and death, according to Sobrino, views them in isolation from the rest of Jesus’s life. “It suggests that the Creator arbitrarily chose the Cross of Jesus for reparation, thereby ignoring the intrinsic relationship that exists between Jesus’s proclamation of liberation, his denunciation of oppression and his historical death on the Cross … it never views the matter (Jesus’s death on the Cross) in terms of the power of real sin in history, which brings death to Jesus — not in idealistic terms but in real terms.” In other words, because Jesus’s whole life was a titanic battle between the forces of evil — personal and social — his ultimate triumph over evil came paradoxically, mysteriously, at the expense of his own life.

Meditate, please, on that paragraph. It carries immense weight and the key to a right celebration of Resurrection.

Click here to see more resources for prayer, study and action this Lenten season.

This reflection appeared in Lent 1997: Following Jesus on the Way to Calvary, published by Pax Christi USA in 1997.

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