Blog #298 Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
Years ago when I was an altar boy the title of our liturgical celebration the Sunday before Eater as far as I can remember was always simply Palm Sunday. In the recently published official edition of the Mass texts it is given a more complete title which identifies it further by reference to the Passion of the Lord. I was happy about this and chose the expanded title as the title of Blog # 298.
I did this in order to give myself an opportunity of sharing with you some important insights into the theological identity of the passion and death of Jesus that I feel may be unfamiliar to many. As I have come to understand, experience, and apply them, they have clarified for me more clearly than ever the theological nature of the events of Calvary, the 'last Supper' and the Mass, the relationship between these three, and the relationship all three have to the Sacrament of Baptism.
It seems to me for many people the primary and almost total goal of the sufferings and crucifixion of Jesus was to atone for sin. I remember from years ago in one of our theology classes in the seminary the question being asked whether death would have occurred in our human experience of life if sin had not occurred. It was a speculative question since sin did occur and continues to occur all over the world. No one could be sure of the answer to our speculative question if God would not have revealed it to us, but the experience of reflecting upon the question helped us identify and appreciate more fully the actual historical 'work' or goal of the Crucifixion and death of Jesus on behalf of all people throughout the world and down through history until the end of time. "There is no salvation in anyone else, for there is no other name in the whole world given to men by which we are to be saved." ( Acts 4:12).
My speculative answer to the speculative question back then in our theology class and carried on through the years was : Yes, death, or an experience equivalent to death, that God would provide,would have existed and would have been offered to every human person God would create even if sin had not occurred. Of course this experience would have been without the negative elements of the experience of death as we know it that can be ours with sin in the picture, such as the feelings of guilt, fear, the mystery and challenge of suffering, shame, etc. I found a clue to the solution of the question in seeing death as the unique opportunity it is of experiencing the perfect love of giving all that we have on earth in the instant we cross the border between life and death, not that we be conscious at that moment but that now in good health and full feedom we choose it according to God's plan for us and never negate that choice for the rest of our lives.
I will give just a few familiar texts here that have served as a background and basis for my further insight into the theological identity and goal of the Crucifixion.
"Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that all who believe may have eternal life in him." (Jn 3: 14, f). "When you lift up the Son of Man, you will come to realize that I AM and that I do nothing by myself...The One who sent me is with me. He has not deserted me since I always do what pleases him." ( Jn 8: 28 f). " Now has judgment come upon this world, now will this world's prince be driven out, and once I am lifted up from earth - will draw all men to myself." ( This statement indicated the sort of death he had to die.) (Jn 12: 32 f).
As part of the long discourse given by Jesus at the Last Supper, John has this: " I shall not go on speaking to you longer; the Prince of this world is at hand. He has no hold on me, but the world must know that I LOVE the Father and do as the Father has commanded me. Come,then! Let us be on our way." (Jn 14: 31). And He led the Apostles to Gethsemani and His arrest by the secular Roman Government.
Until fairly recently I used to refer to the experience of Jesus on the Cross as an example of perfect loving obedience, doing the will of the Father to the extreme of laying down His life. I saw that view as correct in recognizing the Crucifixion as both obedience and love , but now see it as incorrect in identifying the Crucifixion in its essence as obedience rather than as love, in other words with the emphasis on obedience rather than on love and in this way altering the nature of the experience. (Jn 14: 31).
The major consequential difference between these two ways of identifying the Crucifizion and death of Jesus may not be perfectly clear at first to all. Everything that Jesus thought, desired, spoke, or accomplished was done in obedience to the Father's will. All of these examples of obedience could be and were multiplied morning, noon, and night, day by day every moment of the life of Jesus on earth.
Everywhere, and always. The Crucifixion was also an act in
obedience to the Father's will.
But of its very nature it cannot be placed among and as equivalent to all the other acts of obedience Jesus performed. In other words, the Crucifixion was not just one act of obedience among many. To lay down one's life , the act of dying, is unique, once and for all, total. There is no competitor when it comes to other possible experiences. Jesus actually died on the Cross. The Eternal Word, equal to the Father and the Spirit, by force of the mystery of the Incarnation had become one of us,and given the name Jesus, was capable now of death as we are so capable.
He gave His life into the hands of His Father in the greatest love that has or ever will have touched the earth.
All the experiences of Jesus were done as an expression of His love for the Father. Obedience unites us one way or another to the authority giving the command we obey. Our personal motivation in choosing to be obedient at any one time could be fear, as for example I might choose to do my work in a factory in obedience to the boss for fear of losing my job. Or an elephant might do his series of tricks at a circus for the sake of the reward given him immediately afterward. The motivation may also be love but in the case of obedient love the object of our obedience, the what of a command, is not something external to us but within. If we were to receive a command to obey, the comand determines what we are to think say or do. If we were to receive a command to love, love determines the nature and extent of our obedience. In other words I can experience obedience without love but not genuine love without the will to obey.
The distinct unique love we have for God is referred to as worship. Worship is held for God alone because God, as the sole Creator of all that exists, deserves or is worthy of such love. The experience and proclamation of Jesus on the Cross, His unconditional trust and total love is clearly recognized as an act of worship.
Down through the ages from the first beginning of the story of creation, from Cain and Abel, the children of Adam and Eve, through Moses, and Abraham, in the selection and setting aside of the tribe of Levi as priests, the experience of sacrifice was designated and commanded by God as the official experience and sign the Chosen People received to experience and signify their unconditional trust and total love for their Creator.
The experience and proclamation of Jesus on the Cross fulfilled all of the conditions given in our theological definition of sacrifice: An offering to God alone by an official representative of the people with a change or destruction of what is offered in order to recognize, experience, signify and proclaim our unconditional trust, total love, and complete dependance upon our Creator.
The suffering and death of Jesus was an act of worship. All that went before was in preparation, by God's design, for this. As Jesus said explicitly of the law and the Prophets, He did not come to destroy them but to fulfill them. They led the way to Him. There never could be any greater love than His, that of the eternal Word, equal to the Father and the Spirit from all eternity now living among us as one of us without ceasing to be the Word, yet as one of us destined to die, giving willingly in faith all that He possessed on earth in obedience to the Father, in death. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them.." (Mat 5: 17). "There is no greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." ( Jn 15:13).
The 'work' or goal of Good Friday was the Crucifixion, death, love, worship, fulfillment of a covenant. What has this to do with the Last Supper and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?
Check out Blog # 299.