How can we best participate in it? We are accustomed to celebrating the Church’s year spread over twelve months: Advent to Christmas, Christmas to Lent, Easter to Pentecost, Pentecost to the Feast of Christ the King. In the beginning, however, at the dawn of the Church’s life, the celebration of this whole cycle was focused on one event – Easter. It was not until the fourth century that the annual liturgical cycle began to take the shape it has today.
Ask yourself: what is the purpose of these liturgical celebrations? What is the purpose of the liturgy of Palm Sunday? For sure, the Church makes a memorial of the events of our salvation, but it is so much more than an anniversary or a re-enactment. In the liturgy the once-and-for-all events of our salvation, especially the death and resurrection of Jesus, are celebrated and by the power of the Holy Spirit they are made real and present in our midst. Jesus’ coming into Jerusalem on a donkey is made sacramentally present to us today. Zechariah prophesied that the Lord as a divine warrior would enter Jerusalem to establish his dominion, ‘from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth’ (Zech. 9:10). By entering Jerusalem in this way Jesus acted out his prophecy: To, your king comes to you: triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass’ (Zech. 9:9).
Jesus revealed his destiny to establish the kingdom of God on earth but his kingdom could only be established through his cross, death and resurrection. The same crowd who hailed him as he entered Jerusalem are the same crowd who clamoured for his execution and cried out for his blood to be on them and their children. Contemplate, if you will, the following words of St Andrew of Crete:
‘It is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matters which waste away and delight the eye only for a few hours. No, we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, or with the whole of Christ – ‘for as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ’ – so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet’
(St Andrew of Crete)