On this Sunday April 14, the Church celebrates the Passion Sunday which we commonly call the Palms Sunday. It is the Passion Sunday because we listen to the passage of the gospel which talks of the suffering of Jesus, that is, how Jesus was flogged, forced to carry the cross, crucified and died. We start the celebration with the blessing of palms and make a procession with palms in our hands to cheer and re-enact the Lord Jesus’ entrance to the Jerusalem. This is why we call this day palm Sunday.
Palms Sunday begins the holy week which reaches its climax on Good Friday with the crucifixion of the Lord and on Easter with his resurrection from the dead. This week bears epithet holy because it is a special or better a sacred week in the Christian year. Along this week, we meditate on the Lord Jesus’ last week on the earth as well as his ministry in Jerusalem. We remember how Jesus saved the world from the evil, injustice, violence which was and still is dominant in the world. We think of how God saved the world.
Perhaps a look at the past may enable us get an idea of what might have happened in the time of the Lord Jesus. In their Last Week, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan tell us that there were two processions from opposite perspectives entering Jerusalem in the year 30. By the way, what Christians celebrate as Palm Sunday was, for the Jews, the beginning of the Passover celebration. In Passover, Jews remember how God freed them from slavery in Egypt. On an occasion like this as in any other Jewish festivals, the governor of Judea entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers with the sole aim of preventing any attempt of an uprising and make sure that everything was under control and the local people were subdued. Aside from some good achievements that the Roman imperial power did, the Roman governor’s procession – if we picture it “with cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armour, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold” – witnessed to the Roman domination which had, of course, dramatic and tragic outcomes like political oppression, economic exploitation, injustice, violence, rapes and the likes. From the other side, as we can read in the gospel according Mark 11 onward, there was another procession headed by the Lord Jesus and around him, we find peasants and victims of the Roman power coming from Galilee and their main message was the Kingdom of God. You see, my dear brothers and sisters, God takes always the side of the victims.
The procession of the Lord was also aiming at Jerusalem and its temple. As a capital of the kingdom, Jerusalem was supposed to be the symbol of the glory of the kingdom. This glory implied that people would practice justice in order to live in peace with each other. And the temple was the place where people would access to God through purification and forgiveness. However, by the time of Roman occupation, Jerusalem became the centre of injustice as the whole religious apparatus of that time, that is, chiefs priests, scribes, elders and the likes consented to the Roman occupation and legitimated its political oppression and economic exploitation. With this Passion Sunday we remember the Lord Jesus and mostly how he confronted the Roman domination system and his fellow Jews with their compromising attitude towards the Romans. If you read the gospel, for instance, Mark 11 onward or any other passage of the gospel which deals with the Lord’s ministry in Jerusalem we will notice that the Lord Jesus is always confronting the chief priests, scribes and elders. It is at this time that the cleansing of the temple took place.
When we hear of the passion of the Lord Jesus, we think mostly of the Lord’s suffering. But if we think in terms of what was at the origin of his crucifixion, we will discover a strong conviction: the kingdom of God, namely, how we can live as brother and sisters who have God as our father. If we are really brothers and sisters therefore we need to share our natural resources equally as citizens of the same country or world.
Our timbers in Falaba and Koinadugu districts are still flowing to the port of Freetown and none of us complain. What profit are we getting from them? Nothing! All these timber tracks are just destroying our road to Kabala. Soon, as heavy rains are coming, it will not be easy for us to make it to Kabala and all our authorities know about it. Our governments in Africa are the first to consent to multinationals as these exploit cheaply our natural resources. A handful of people like our presidents, ministers and parliamentarians are the one who enjoy our natural resources and the rest of the population continue starving. The fight started by Jesus is still timely today mostly in our third world countries. The Lord Jesus was deeply convinced of the kingdom of God that this earned him a cruel death.
From holy Monday until Wednesday we will listen to gospels’ stories about how the chief priests, scribes and elders were plotting to kill the Lord Jesus. And in the evening of Holy Thursday, as father Timothy Radcliff empathically puts it in What is the point of being a Christian?:“Whatever story they told collapsed that evening. Judas had sold Jesus; Peter was about to betray him. The other disciples would flee in fear. At the moment that this fragile community was disintegrating, Jesus took bread, blessed it and gave it to them saying, ‘This is my body, given for you.” On Good Friday, the Lord Jesus was tortured and crucified. Finally on Holy Saturday our hope reached its goal. The tomb was found empty. Pope Benedict XVI puts it in this way in Spes Salvi: “Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.
Being in Muslim dominated area, we are exposed from time to time to different invectives. I remember once I was celebrating the Mass and my congregation was made up of primary school children and most of them are just newly baptized Christians. Around us were Mulsim children who can just assist and they were standing aloof. At a certain moment, one of them said something which sounded like an Arabic expression. I asked what was it about and our prayer leader told me that they are just provoking their friends with the expression that “God never had a child”. Many of our Muslim friends also think that Christianity is the invention of the white people or the West.
Our faith in Jesus Christ is historical in the sense that it started in particular time and place in the history of human beings. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that God sent him into the world to show us the way we should live. That is why we, Christians, follow him as our model. Saint John Paul II wrote: “The Church does not cease to listen to his words. She rereads them continually. With the greatest devotion she reconstructs every detail of his life” (Redemptoris Hominis No 7). As we start this Holy Week, let us keep our eyes on Jesus Christ as this week focused on him.