March 28, 2021
(Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 11:1-11)
Today with the whole of the Christian community we enter upon the final week of preparation for our yearly celebration of the Lord's death and resurrection. Since Ash Wednesday many of us have tried to read or listen attentively to God's word of life and mercy in Jesus Christ calling us once more to a renewal of our baptismal commitment. The renewal of that lifegiving stream within our hearts should flow anew into patterns of loving service in the midst of our sisters and brothers within the human family in a time when love is sorely needed.
The readings of this day's liturgy seek to gather the weeks of our Lenten journey around the St. Mark passion narrative and the story of Jesus’ messianic entry into Jerusalem. These readings represent diverse traditions of celebrating the Sunday before Easter in the early church.
The Roman tradition of the late 4th and early 5th centuries was to read the passion on this Sunday while the previous Sunday was called “Passion Sunday.” Passion Sunday started the period in which the church focused on the passion the week preceding the remembrance of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, known as the week of “Passion-Tide.”
The Jerusalem tradition focused more in reenacting the day by day events of the last week of Christ’s life and thus centered its liturgy in the Palm Sunday procession on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
The medieval liturgical tradition, which we have inherited, sought to combine both traditions. Some branches of Christianity have taken a contemporary liturgical renewal which has continued the celebration of both traditions, but has placed renewed emphasis upon the reading of the passion as a central focus of today's liturgy of the word.
In the Liberal Catholic world, we would normally have a liturgy and readings less focused on the gruesome aspects of the passion. Here at St. Francis, however, we normally tend to take a more traditional approach with the Passion-Tide week leading into Palm Sunday. This year, given Covid-19 and reduced attendance, I am going with simplified worship.
On this Sunday, we read one of the synoptic gospels on the rotating basis while every year we read the passion according to the Saint John on Good Friday (depending on the service).
And so, today we read the passion according to Saint Mark so that the story of Jesus’ suffering and death will be a place where all individual and communal stories of pain, loss, suffering and death during the past year can find some meaning. For we are confronted each day with the tragedies of human suffering that seem to challenge the truth of God's love and providential care for us. The Christian response to human suffering is not so much a philosophically reasoned series of answers but an invitation to the kenosis, the self-emptying, of Jesus. (Philippians 2:7)
The St. Mark passion narrative does not ask us to choose suffering as suffering, but it does bid us to enter into Jesus' struggle to accept in faith the reality of suffering in human life. Jesus’ agony in the garden and His sense of abandonment by God on the cross reflect the truth of our own human experience.
Paul says in Philippians that our attitude must be that of Christ who empties himself by obediently accepting death on the cross. Jesus’ obedient acceptance is not a passive surrender in the face of suffering, but an active and faith filled listening to His own role in God's plan of Salvation. Such listening obedience does not remove the human agony or the feeling of abandonment that are part of our experience of suffering. But in Christ’s self-emptying of obedience unto death, we are opened as women and men to the mystery of God's strange ways of loving us through suffering and death unto newness of life.
God created us as human beings that we might have life and have it in abundance. In the self-emptying of Jesus’ passion, death and sin are conquered because they are taken into the mystery of God and transformed into new life. As we gather on this Sunday of the Passion around the word of God's gift of new life in Christ crucified and risen, we bring with it the mystery of our own experience of the passion during the past year as individuals, as a Christian community, and as members of the entire human family. Most suffering and tragedy make no sense to us, and we have often wondered where our loving God is when we are surrounded by pain and loss.
Today's readings tell us that through self-emptying, the loving God in, with, and through Christ, is present amidst all our suffering so that we will have life in abundance. God’s self-emptying in Christ gathers all our experience of emptiness, nothingness, and meaninglessness in the face of suffering into the Cup of Jesus’ passion so that we may ever drink the Cup of new life and know that we do not suffer alone.
This day let us allow our experience of suffering to flow into the mystery of the Cup of Christ’s passion. Let us eat of Christ’s body and drink of the Cup of Christ’s blood, believing that the mystery of His self-emptying by obediently accepting death on a cross will sustain us amidst the darkness of our own self-emptying and our own struggle to be obedient to God's plan of life through death. Come to the table of the cross and share in the victory of Christ by drinking new life greater than all the forces of suffering and death. May the stream of Christ’s gift of new life in our hearts flow into the compassionate service of our suffering sisters and brothers in our communities and in the entire human family.
Let us pray.
At this difficult time for the Church, we ask for the faith to stand by Jesus and have the courage to publicly proclaim the Word of the Lord. We pray to the Lord.
During this Holy Week, we pray for the grace to reflect on the Way of the Cross and on the sufferings which Christ endured out of love for us. We pray to the Lord.
Lord, we pray for unity among all Christians and that during this Holy Week we who believe in you, who hope in you and who love you, will worship you in harmony and with the love which you demand of us. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for all those who like Jesus carry a heavy cross because of poverty, homelessness, illness and bereavement. We pray also for those, who like Simon of Cyrene, help them in their moment of need. We pray to the Lord.
As we reflect on the sacrifice which Jesus suffered on behalf of humanity, we pray that our society display that same love and commitment as we struggle to overcome the Covid-19 virus and restore the lives of so many to good health and normality. We pray to the Lord.
For first responders, law enforcement, military and those in harm’s way: that the Lord be their strength and refuge and bless them as they serve our communities and country. We pray to the Lord.
We thank you, O Father, for the wonder of the life and its gifts you have bestowed on us and ask that you remain always responsive to our prayers. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may receive swift answers to their needs and that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Humble Jesus, who rides into our cities, who draws near to our lives, we, too, rise to greet you, to shout our hosannas, to feel life stir within us, to sense hope quickening in our hearts. For you are a great God, a compassionate ruler, a loving friend, a wise counselor. But deep in the distance, in some far corner of our being, we fear your arrival. For you gently offer us a choice, and to choose you means letting go of jealousies and resentments, our private wars against others and our timid acceptance of ourselves. Like the people of Jerusalem, we discover you are more than we first thought. Beyond loud hosannas, you ask our obedience and our worship. And we are learning, piece by piece, to turn that over to you. This is ever oh so difficult when we have a nation, not only fighting Covid-19, but also each other with acts of domestic terrorism, shootings and political fighting instead of governing. Send Your Holy Angels to help during these battles and help us overcome them.
This day, this week, move us into the deeper levels of ourselves. Let us feel again your pain of that last week. Let us touch our own wounds, trusting You. Easter is the sign of new hope for us. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA
Please help if you can, to keep our ministry alive and vibrant so that there is a place for the those needing respite from a troubled world! God Bless You +++