Palm Sunday [B] 2009

Fr. Charles Irvin

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

Christ walks ahead of us into the mystery of evil. He knows suffering. All who suffer now have Him with us. Without giving us answers to why there is evil in the first place we are instead led by Jesus Christ to deal with suffering and death head on. The ultimate mystery is that sin has taken us all into rejection of God. It is prideful human rejection of God that is the root cause of all human suffering, separation from the source of our happiness, namely our turning away from the happiness of union with God. All of us have sinned; all of us are accomplices in bringing evil and the suffering that results in our world that results from it.

How, then, are we to deal with it? Can we deal with it apart from Christ? The events of Holy Week give us answers.

The voice in today’s first reading is the voice of the Old Testament’s Suffering Servant, the one who personifies not only the eventual Messiah but also the one who represents Israel, the community of sufferers. Compassion is the primary virtue to be shared; it is a community activity. The very word “compassion” means “to suffer with” and therein we can begin to answer to the question of how we are to deal with suffering.

God knows of our powerlessness. Knowing of it, and loving us as He does, He came among us in compassion, to share in our suffering, the consequence of evil. God the Son, Jesus Christ, takes on our human condition by joining Himself into our humanity while at the same time allowing us to join ourselves into His humanity.

We need to recall that the medieval theologians referred to the whole corporate body of the baptized and confirmed as the “Mystical Body of Christ.” At the same time they referred to the Blessed Sacrament as the “Mystical Body of Christ.” They recognized that the Eucharist makes the Church while the Church makes the Eucharist. Together the baptized and confirmed constitute the Mystical Body of Christ. Likewise, together we are all joined into the Suffering Servant. That is what the liturgies of Holy Week are all about.

In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul writes about suffering, his own suffering, while recognizing that he is talking about all who suffer:  Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church… [Col 1:24] In writing these words St. Paul is speaking of the solidarity we all share not only with each other but our solidarity with Christ in His redemptive suffering. The meaning of solidarity is that we share each other’s burdens. Christ is yoked with us.

Our Psalm response today is taken from Psalm 22 with the words My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? It is spoken repeatedly. Once again the voice is that of the Old Testament’s Suffering Servant. But at the same time those were the last words Jesus uttered at the moment of His death on the Cross. Truly, God has not shielded Himself from the consequences of our sins and the human suffering that results from it. He knows us through and through… and He has compassion on us… He, in Christ, suffers with us.

But God’s compassion turns into mercy and opens up to us our eventual victory over sin, over suffering, and even over death itself. For as the early Christians sang in our of our earliest hymns:

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.


Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [Philippians 2:5-11]


In Jesus Christ God loves us to death… and after that He loves us back into life just as He did with poor Lazarus, just as He did with His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”