Palm Sunday of the Passion - Sr. Nuala Cotter

Carême - Lent - Cuaresmo

Ride on, King Jesus,” you who come into Jerusalem on a donkey’s back, “humble and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass,” as the Prophet Zechariah (9:9) announced long ago. Zechariah was speaking then of a messianic warrior-king who would deliver the Children of Israel from the oppression of their enemies ; the old prophecy must have crackled like wildfire through the crowd on that first Palm Sunday morning.

Jesus approaches Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, on the east side of the walled city ; this too must have reminded the people of Zechariah’s later words (14:4) concerning the “Day of the Lord.” On that day, said Zechariah, the great and final battle would occur right there, on the Mount, and the entire earth – especially the topography of Jerusalem – would change. On that day, the Mount would be “cleft in two,” even as the “feet of the Lord” rested upon it as he fought against the nations who had sought to destroy Jerusalem forever. Yes, they had done terrible damage to that holy place, but in the end, the Lord and his messianic king would prevail : Ride on, King Jesus ! Ride on !
Even before the crowd spots Jesus riding into the city, his disciples must be also feeling the thrill : everything happens as he predicts, including the smooth untying and borrowing of the donkey. “The Master has need of it ? Take it !”
It’s a heady moment – always a dangerous thing for the disciples, whose all too human eyes can see only that things are going just right, that everything’s going great : Ride on, King Jesus !
Do you know the song I’m quoting ? It’s an African American spiritual whose words are very simple, but when you hear them sung, you just might feel that you suddenly understand something about that first Palm Sunday that you never understood before. When you hear them sung, you just might get lifted up into the excitement and hope of all those people lining the stony track leading up to the city. When you hear these words sung, you just might feel something quite different from the way you normally feel when you sheepishly wave a few limp palm fronds around in your parish church. When you hear them sung, you might be changed a bit. So be careful !
Ride On, King Jesus” refers not only to Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, but also to the experience of an oppressed people. African slaves in the United States sang it first, but now, it seems as if it could be the song of anyone who faces oppression and misery, whether that means the undocumented immigrant living in the shadows of a society or women forced into the sex trade or families cowering under the ruthless shelling of their neighborhoods :
Ride on King Jesus
No man can-a-hinder me
Ride on King Jesus
Ride on
No man can-a-hinder me
No man can-a-hinder me
It could even be your song. You just might find yourself praying : “When you ride ahead of me, King Jesus, I can stand up. No man can-a-hinder me.”
Of course, we know, too, that there’s much more to come in the week that will follow this triumphant entrance into God’s holy city. The first reading, the psalm response, and the second reading of the Mass all point to Friday, while Mark’s Passion narrative offers us powerful and terrible close-ups of the events of both Thursday and Friday. Even as we shout Hosanna, we can’t forget what’s to come.
On Friday, in the precarious safety of their bolt holes, the disciples will wonder bitterly why they ever allowed themselves to get so caught up in the hoopla of the previous Sunday. During the day of Saturday, they will have plenty of time to ask themselves the question again and again, even as they wonder what they will do now.
But there will be women who know very well what they will do, women who can’t help themselves, women who will go to the tomb as soon as they can, early on the Sunday morning, to do what women have always done. And when they get there, their song might just be the second stanza of “Ride On, King Jesus” :
In that great getting up morning
Fair thee well, fair thee well
In that great getting up morning
Fair thee well, fair thee well
Ride on King Jesus...
On that great getting up morning, Lord,
Ride on and take me with you, King Jesus ! Amen.
Sr. Nuala Cotter, ra
Worcester - USA


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