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Homily for Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

Mark 11:1-10; Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11, Mark 14:1-15,47

Saint John Baptist de La Salle/Saint Stephen March 24, 2023

Pilate was the Roman Governor of Jerusalem, and no matter what you may think, in the eyes of the Romans, he was very good at his job. Living during the time of Jesus was a Jewish historian named Josephus, who reported that Pilate was finally removed from office for using excessive violence against the Jews. St. Mark records a detail that is absent from the other Gospels, about what happened when Pilate was asked to release the body of Jesus, “Pilate was amazed that Jesus was already dead. He summoned the centurion and asked him if Jesus had already died. And when he learned of it from the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.” Of course, this is the duty of anyone in authority who has ordered an execution; you must make certain the condemned person is indeed dead before releasing the body.

Jesus would not have been the first, or the last, to have survived an execution, and it would have been big trouble to have him walking around, alive, after the event. So, despite Pilate’s surprise, Jesus was indeed dead. Pilate is not alone in struggling to comprehend the sheer reality of death. As your pastor, I am almost always around when someone dies. Also, it has been my experience that when a loved one dies, almost everyone has a difficulty talking about death. It matters greatly to the Good News of the Gospel that Jesus was truly dead. It forms the basis of our faith and the Church’s earliest preaching. All the writings of the New Testament insist that Jesus died, and that he stayed dead for three days. Why does this matter? Because over the ages, few people had little hope in life after death; their understanding was that in death there just was no hope. Psalm 6 says it well: "Return, Lord, rescue my soul. Save me in your merciful love; for in death no one remembers you; from the grave, who can give you praise?" Pilate confirmed this as Jesus’ fate, and for three days Jesus is lost to death.

None of us can take death in. It stands at the end of life, beyond life and our imagination. But we will call this week holy, because in the coming days mysteries, our wondering about death give way to Resurrection. In the words of St. Paul to the Philippians, he wrote: "One man went under the earth,” and in doing so he transformed death from eternal darkness into everlasting light. “He humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which 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.”

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