We know this story.
We’ve heard it, variations of it, some of us many, many times.
Yet you can feel something different.  How transcendent is the proclamation of the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ, especially this day, this week?
The beautiful yet haunting African-American hymn asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? – and on Palm Sunday, during Holy Week every year, our senses are heightened, and our spirits are attuned in a particular way that we can answer:  We were there – We are there.

Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for PALM SUNDAY OF THE PASSION OF THE LORD March 244, 2024.  I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim

Tradition holds, and scholars agree, that the Gospel account we just proclaimed together was St. Mark’s capture of the preaching from St. Peter, our first Pope.  Each year, the Church rotates between Luke, Matthew, and Mark’s Gospels on Palm Sunday (with John’s account being part of Good Friday every year).  These Gospel writers present this familiar story from their own perspectives, which are unique and special in their own ways.

Mark and Peter’s account has an almost breathless energy, and you can hear the urgency and seriousness of what has happened.  There are these nameless individuals who do things that are more important to Jesus than the person performing them, which are remembered here, like the courageous, bold woman who lovingly anoints Jesus with expensive oil or these individuals who lead the Apostles to the place set aside for the Last Supper.

There are these random things like hearing that the man who helped Jesus carry the Cross, Simon the Cyrene, was the “father of Alexander and Rufus.” Fathers are rarely identified in reference to their sons, but it’s usually the other way.  This hints at the initial listeners of Peter; readers of Mark would have known Alexander and Rufus, who were well-known in the Early Christian community.  Highlighting how this seemingly random, chance encounter between Simon the Cyrene and Jesus forever changed the course of Simon’s life, his family, and his descendants.

But what stands out most of all in this account is Simon Peter’s broken heart as he recounts what happened when they crucified the Lord.  Matthew and John, in their Gospels, both share how Jesus predicts Peter will deny him before the cock crows.  But in his Gospel, Mark gives all the excruciating details.  It started with Peter boldly claiming, “Even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be!” You can imagine the guilt and shame Peter feels in recounting his bravado as he expands with what exactly Jesus predicted, as the scene is seared into his mind and heart: “Amen, I say to you, this very night before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.” There will be two crows – three denials…  Those numbers, these words, this scene must’ve played over and over for Peter in his memory as this conversation continues with Peter vehemently arguing No, Lord Jesus… I would never do that as he insists: “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.”

Peter’s shame is laid bare as he shares that when a maid-servant, hardly an individual who posed a threat to him, someone who in that entire context is the furthest from having any power, influence or authority, observes Peter and says, “You too were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” Peter immediately loses his courage…  A cock crowed once.  He heard it.  It caught his attention.  It still echoes in his heart.  It should have immediately served as a warning.  Maybe it did, making his second and third denials so much more devastating.  A single denial would have been bad enough.  Three times tripled the seriousness of the act from the one Jesus called “the rock” on which He would build His Church.

These details all highlight how, for Peter, the pain of his sin was especially real.  It’s a sin that was thoughtless in every meaning of the word: it was both the furthest thing from Peter’s mind to deny Jesus and one of the worst things he could have done at the moment.   You can hear the continued pain of one who has experienced forgiveness, which Peter does after Jesus’ is raised from the dead, but is still struggling with forgiving himself long after these events first took place, and he was recalling them again and again in his preaching.   We can hear Peter’s broken heart – broken out of regret of what he did and didn’t do, broken when he realized not only how much he had grown to love Jesus but that after all this time, he was only starting to grasp the love Jesus had for him.  Which would even take this sin, this setback, this broken heart, and transform it.   Leaving a tenderness and vulnerability that humbles Peter’s somewhat oblivious arrogance.  The man who had this unfounded confidence and was so sure of himself now recognizes that the only way forward was in listening to Jesus; the only confidence he could have was remembering all that Jesus said, following Jesus’ example, including to the Cross.  Finally, it clicked that taking up the Cross himself wasn’t a suggestion or option for discipleship.  Enabling Peter to have the ultimate of comebacks, solidifying him as the rock of the Church in a way that would’ve been unimaginable to him that first Good Friday.

That’s not just true for Peter.  There’s another curious, unusual detail in this Gospel.  Earlier in the narrative, a young man, described as wearing nothing but a linen cloth after the arrest of Jesus, is following along and seized by the authorities.  This guy slips out of their grasp by slipping out of that cloth as the young man is said to have “ran off naked.” Scholars believe that this is St. Mark himself, revealing how, in the midst of this night of high anxiety, fear, and failure among those closest to Jesus, how Mark himself reacted.  It’s almost like Mark, after listening to Peter still wrestling with his own mistakes, his own failures, having to fraternally remind him – with this absurd and somewhat comedic moment to say to Bro… it wasn’t just you who failed…

They all did.

We all did. 

As the prayer we’ve prayed all through Lent reminds us, we’ve all failed the Lord God in our thoughts and words—in what we have done and what we have failed to do.  But Jesus continues to take brokenness and transform it—that is what He wants to do for each and every one of us who find ourselves there, who find ourselves here as they crucify Him.

Jesus wants us to understand that what causes His very heart and soul to be troubled and distressed in the Garden of Gethsemane is the thought of losing any single one of us.  Jesus wants us to recognize that His absorbing the hatred, the rejection, the unfairness, and the unjustness of the world in His arrest, trial, and Passion is so that we can see Him and find Him when those same things happen to us here and now.  Jesus wants us to grasp that what holds His Hands and Feet to the Cross are not the nails but the complete and absolute love He has for you and me. 

As we come to the Cross this Palm Sunday, this Holy Week, He wants us to receive all of that.  And to be forever changed by it.