“For the infant Church, ‘Palm Sunday’ was not a thing of the past,” writes Pope Benedict XVI in “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week” (Ignatius, $24.95). “Just as the Lord entered the Holy City that day on a donkey, so too the Church saw him coming again and again in the humble form of bread and wine.”
Today’s readings focus our attention on the connection between Jesus’ humble entrance into Jerusalem and his loving gift of the Eucharist. “At the Last Supper, on the night when he was betrayed, our savior instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood,” states Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. “He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the centuries until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us” (No. 47).
Today’s readings present us with two essential, yet mysterious, movements: one vertical and the other horizontal.
The vertical movement is between heaven and earth. “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped,” wrote St. Paul to the Philippians. The Son of God came in the “form of a slave” and humbled himself, accepting death on the cross. This, of course, was a most astounding, unexpected descent, flowing from the love the Father and the obedience of the Son.
In the eyes of the world, the cross was complete and utter defeat. But, as the pope notes, “The hour of the cross is the hour of the Father’s true glory, the hour of Jesus’ true glory.” Because of his loving obedience, Jesus was greatly exalted and given the name that “is above every name.” The descent of the eternal Word into the world results in the ascent of the Incarnate Word into the heavenly realms, opening the doors of life for all those united to him in faith.
The horizontal movement is from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. Before his entrance into the holy city, Jesus had kept silent about the fact that he was the Christ (see Mt 16:20). But his entrance purposefully revealed that he was the Davidic king and Messiah promised by Zechariah: “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, Meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass” (Zec 9:9).
The pilgrims who accompanied Jesus cried out, “Hosanna” (that is, “Save us!”), sang the praises of the Son of David and told the city dwellers, “This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.” But, just as Jerusalem had been greatly troubled by the news of Jesus’ birth (see Mt 2:2-3), the city was upset by this display of praise; the stage was set for the arrest and crucifixion of Christ, where the vertical and horizontal movements would meet — on the cross.
The King of kings comes to the Church in the sacraments of the New Covenant. In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, he comes in the humble form of bread and wine, hidden from the world but visible to those who say in faith, “This is Jesus. Hosanna! Save us!”
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.