Palm Sunday – Year B

First thing in the morning, the chief priests together with the elders and the scribes, in short the whole Sanhedrin, had their plan ready. They had Jesus bound and took him away and handed him over to Pilate.

Pilate questioned him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘It is you who say it’ he answered. And the chief priests brought many accusations against him. Pilate questioned him again, ‘Have you no reply at all? See how many accusations they are bringing against you!’ But to Pilate’s amazement, Jesus made no further reply.

At festival time Pilate used to release a prisoner for them, anyone they asked for. Now a man called Barabbas was then in prison with the rioters who had committed murder during the uprising. When the crowd went up and began to ask Pilate the customary favour, Pilate answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?’ For he realised it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over. The chief priests, however, had incited the crowd to demand that he should release Barabbas for them instead. The Pilate spoke again. ‘But in that case,’ he said to them ‘what am I to do with the man you call king of the Jews?’ They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ ‘Why?’ Pilate asked them ‘What harm has he done?’ But they shouted all the louder, ‘Crucify him!’ So Pilate, anxious to placate the crowd, released Barabbas for them and, having ordered Jesus to be scourged, handed him over to be crucified.

The soldiers led him away to the inner part of the palace, that is, the Praetorium, and called the whole cohort together. They dressed him in purple, twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed and spat on him; and they went down on their knees to do him homage. And when they had finished making fun of him, they took off the purple and dressed him in his own clothes.

They led him out to crucify him. They enlisted a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, father of Alexander and Rufus, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha, which means the place of the skull.

They offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he refused it. Then they crucified him, and shared out his clothing, casting lots to decide what each should get. It was the third hour when they crucified him. The inscription giving the charge against him read: ‘The King of the Jews.’ And they crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left.

The passers-by jeered at him; they shook their heads and said, ‘Aha! So you would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days! Then save yourself: come down from the cross!’ The chief priests and the scribes mocked him among themselves in the same way. ‘He saved others,’ they said ‘he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross now, for us to see it and believe.’ Even those who were crucified with him taunted him.

When the sixth hour came there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you deserted me?’ When some of those who stood by heard this they said, ‘Listen, he is calling on Elijah’. Someone ran and soaked a sponge in vinegar and, putting it on a reed, gave it him to drink saying, ‘Wait and see if Elijah will come to take him down.’ But Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.

All kneel and pause a moment.

And the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The centurion, who was standing in front of him, had seen how he had died, and he said, ‘In truth this man was a son of God.’

Mark 15:1-39

On the last Sunday of Lent prior to the beginning of the Triduum we are presented with the full proclamation of our Lord’s Passion. Passion Sunday, or Palm Sunday as it is commonly referred, is the only Sunday liturgy that has two Gospel proclamations. The first is the recount of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the second is the lengthy Passion narrative from the evangelist of the particular year, in this case from the Gospel of Mark. 

A recurring theme of Mark’s Gospel is that Jesus’ is the suffering messiah, the Son of God. His life, death and resurrection are a fulfilment of prophecies and a source of hope to us all. The passage: “and as they were eating he took some bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to them. ‘Take it,’ he said ‘this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them, and all drank from it, and he said to them, ‘This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many. I tell you solemnly, I shall not drink any more wine until the day I drink the new wine in the kingdom of God.’ “ In this way the words of the evangelist indicates how Jesus will suffer and hints at his resurrection. This theme of suffering is clearly evidenced in the Passion account, especially with Judas’ betrayal of Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and the casting of lots for Jesus’ clothing. In further fulfilment of the prophets, we hear Jesus’ final words from the Psalmist. “My God, my God why have you forsaken me” are taken from Psalm 22. 

Mark’s portrayal of Jesus’ final days is deeply moving. A significant portion of the Passion narrative recounts the trial of Jesus who remains silent throughout Pilate’s questioning. Pilate is mystified by Jesus’ failure to refute the charges, or plea his innocence. At the same time “Pilate knew it was out of jealousy that they”, the Chief Priests, had handed him over to be trailed. Mark’s Gospel highlights the traditional practice of the governor releasing a prisoner of the people’s choice, during the festival. Pilate’s failure to do so, is perhaps a metaphor for our own weaknesses. 

Mark’s Gospel provides a vivid account of the tumult that followed Jesus’ death.  “And the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Seeing all that was taking place the gathered onlookers quickly came to the realization that, in truth, Jesus was the Son of God. This truth was echoed by the words of the centurion at the foot of the cross. “The centurion, who was standing in front of him, had seen how he had died, and he said, ‘In truth this man was a son of God.’” 

As we remember the events of Jesus’ passion we must be careful not to allow our feelings of sorrow to dominate the expression and practice of our faith. Rather, like the early disciples we must see that it is the Resurrection that reveals the full identity of Jesus as the Son of God, and gives meaning to our faith and life