Sunday, April 5, 2009

It Starts

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

Today's Word:
Mark 11:1-10 or John 12:12-16 ("Hosanna! Blest is he who comes in the name of the Lord!")
Isaiah 50:4-7 (Third Song of the Suffering Servant: "The Lord has given me a well-trained tongue")
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-24 (They divide my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots)
Philippians 2:6-11 (Every knee should bow, and every tongue confess: Jesus Christ is Lord)
Mark 14:1 - 15:47 (The Passion according to Mark: "I tell you truly, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God")

Sorry for the late post today - I had an early start with Mass this morning.

Ordinarily, Catholics hear the Scriptures 'proclaimed' at Mass by a reader. This was one of the privileges I had as a deacon - to proclaim the Gospel passage of the day. It was something I liked even more than the opportunity to preach. Why? 

The Word does have an ability to speak for Itself. But a bit of its luster can get lost when the reader delivers it flat - or in a monotone. (Some priests in my lifetime have done this as poorly as the laity, just to set the record straight.) I had always been complimented on my ability to read aloud, from the time I was four. It was nice to know that gift was still there. Whenever I was blessed with the opportunity, I wanted to read in such a way as to breathe some life into those words. Sometimes, though, the Word would sneak up on me, play games with who I was at the time, and nearly break my composure. I knew I had to hold back, but I sure didn't want to.

Anyway...twice a year, the full congregation gets involved. On Palm Sunday and again on Good Friday, the accounts of the Passion of Jesus are read from the Gospels. There are two readers; one acting as a narrator and one as a speaker who gets to play all the bit parts from Peter to Pilate. The presiding priest speaks the words of Jesus; andthe congregation plays the part of the Jerusalem locals who ultimately call for Christ's crucifixion.

Theologically, there's a reason for having the people restate the call for Jesus' death. It makes his condemnation at our hands as well as those of the people of the time. As we will hear on Good Friday:

It was our infirmities that he bore,
our sufferings that he endured...
He was pierced for our offenses,
crushed for our sins;
upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,
by his stripes we were healed.
(Isaiah 53:4-5)

I don't know how well this sits with everybody, but it's part of the 'why'.

And what happens when an elderly reader completely loses his or her place, for some unknown reason? Or simply 'loses it' altogether? Such is likely to happen at least once. That's how powerful Jesus' last hours were; the kind of stuff that leaves you without words, numbed to the very core of your being.

I pray today that you will find a few minutes each day this week to pick out a verse or two from the daily readings (of your choice, or from the "Today's Word" heading at the beginning of my posts) and think about how all this was done not only for the people of that time, but for people of all time. Including me...and including you.

I will be busy as usual this season - and I'll keep posting here, trying to keep it timely and hopefully as fresh as it can be.

Almighty and ever-living God,
  it was your will that your Son Jesus take on our human flesh and suffer on the Cross,
  an example of humility for us to follow.
Grant, we ask you, that we may deserve
  both to learn the lessons of his passion
  and to share in his resurrection.
(Prayer from the Divine Office for Palm Sunday)

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