Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for Palm Sunday
Luke 19:29-40 (Palm Procession); Isaiah 50:4-7; Ps 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56 (Passion)
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
In the ancient Mediterranean world, palm branches symbolized victory. With the branches today, we praise an upcoming victory. The victory over original sin. Original sin is mankind’s disobedience to God and obedience to the devil in his basic temptation: to always put ourselves first. Original sin, expressed in our concrete sins, shatters God’s plan and gives the devil influence over the world, in large and small. Its ultimate consequence is death as a total extinction in self-generated God-absence.
When the ultimate true and good, God incarnate, appears, we collectively respond fiercely. Humans in first century Judea as well as humans today, do not want God as revealed by Jesus Christ and proclaimed by the Church. Because it is a God who wants to turn us away from sin, i.e. our self centering, and thus change and transform us along the path he had intended; a God who does not bless all we feel and want just because we feel or want it; and who indicates that our intended path entails sacrifice, dismantling us from popularity, wealth, power and pleasures, and perhaps even our own lives.
What is at display on the cross is our own ugliness, and of that we build on our own. Because what brought Jesus there? Betrayal, conspiracy, scapegoating, injustice, denial, cowardice, preferring worldly leaders and ideologies before God, cruelty and fear. All that we keep on repeating in different ways. Against Him, His smallest brothers and sisters and our own true nature.
But in the brutality of the cross we also see the fullest expression of divine mercy. On the cross Jesus through his divine nature absorbs all of the deadly sins, all of evil, into God’s forgiveness, concluded by him praying for the forgiveness of his executors. He conquers death by encountering it in his human nature, through which all of us sharing that nature are invited to partake in the final victory, by faith.
In this sense, Jesus functions as the true “Lamb of God”, sacrificed for sin, who now fulfils all the temple sacrifices of the Old covenant. Not because God the Father had some sort of a bizarre willingness to see blood, but as the only possible way to deal with original sin in its own court, so that no sin of ours finally can separate us from the love of God. The remembrance of Passover, Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt, is turned into remembrance of that, which it has been an image of: the world’s liberation from the consequence of original sin.
All this is brought into our present through the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, instituted as we heard at Jesus’s last supper. But completely different from a supper. The old Hebrew word for “remembrance”, “memorial”, which Jesus uses, was used in the ancient Jewish family meal liturgies, Passover and others, where different sacrifices and feasts in the temple were represented outside of Jerusalem. Blessing the celebration of a particular historical event, the word “remembrance” assured that God would bring the effects of the event into work in the present.
Precisely this happens every time when the Eucharist – Greek for “thanksgiving” for Christ’s sacrifice – is celebrated by a priest of the Apostolic faith, in communion with Peter, as prescribed by Christ himself: Then Jesus’s once and only sacrifice on the cross becomes really present to enter into us, so that supernatural grace increasingly can change us. Not only transforming the nature of bread and wine, but if we receive Holy Communion worthily and cooperate, our nature stepwise will be brought towards fulfilment. Then we will be able to give of ourselves for the truth and the good, i.e. for Him. Even if it demands our sacrifices, which He actually has promised it will.
With the light of divine forgiveness within us, we will be able go where He has gone before us, knowing He is with us, and that the final outcome for Him – resurrection into a new and fulfilled life – also can be the final outcome for us.
Without the truth of the cross outspokenly proclaimed and lived, presupposing the truth about sin, also outspokenly acknowledged, Christianity is nothing more than a set of nice but strange sayings. And only with a valid Eucharist constantly celebrated by the Catholic Church all over the world, Christianity will stay sufficiently nourished by its one core event.
In the upcoming week we will look at the cross, gratefully aware of that Jesus was not an unfortunate victim of a Roman execution. But a victim of love. And that his life was not taken. But given, freely. Amen.