It is important for us to remember all that Jesus did to save us - the indignities He suffered, the blood He shed, the life He gave. All that He endured was for you and for me. He took upon Himself the punishment we deserve for our selfishness, pride and hatred. The forgiveness of our sins and the hope of everlasting life are ours because of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for us.
His death on the cross was an act of pure love. He had the power to put an end to it all, to allow the cup to pass Him by. He could have called down legions of angels to save Him from the Roman soldiers. As the Son of God, He could have come down from the cross. Instead, He chose to lay down His life and so take upon Himself the sins of all the world.
Because of His great love, He accepted a humiliating death even though He knew that so many would still refuse to recognize Him as Lord. He knew that many would still reject Him or be indifferent to His sacrifice. He knew that for many people His death would make no difference in the way they lived. Yet He pressed on obedient to the will of His Father. As the prophet Isaiah writes, He set His face like flint knowing He would not be put to shame.
This is the mystery we remember and celebrate today as we read the account of His passion and death with palm branches in our hands.
But we would miss the purpose of today’s solemnity entirely if all we did was remember it. It would be nothing more than a retelling or a re-enactment of an historic event of the past. Rather what we must do is imitate our Lord in His humility, patience and, most especially, His love. As Saint Paul tells us in the second reading, we must have within us the attitude of Christ Himself.
As He suffered for us, so we must accept suffering for Him and for others. Just as He loved those who hated Him, we must love our enemies as well as our friends. Just as He forgave those who tortured and killed Him, so we must forgive those who offend us. And just as He has shown mercy to us poor sinners, so we must reach out to the poor who are in need of our generosity.
When we do so, the love of Christ becomes real for us and the healing power of the cross breaks into our world which can so often be dark and cold. Considering all that Jesus has done to save us, how could we ever close our hand to or turn our backs on our neighbors in their need?
As beautiful as these words and sentiments may seem, we know how difficult they are to live. As Jesus tells Peter, James and John: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” It is natural for us to want to avoid suffering at all costs. It is natural for us to want to get even with those who hurt us. And it is natural for us to seek as comfortable a life as possible for ourselves. The way of the world seems so much easier than the way of the cross.
.At the same time, we know that we cannot follow Jesus without denying ourselves and picking up our own cross. The only way we can do that, given our weak and wounded human nature, is by the power Jesus offers us through that same cross. If we try to avoid temptation and strive for virtue by our own power, we will fail miserably. However, if we turn to Jesus, look upon His cross and pray, “Passion of Christ, strengthen me,” we will be given the ability through grace to accept suffering, to bear wrongs patiently and to forgive those who wrong us. We will find the courage to accept ridicule and humiliation for living out our Christian faith. Through it all, we will experience the blessing and consolation of having Jesus by our side.
Jesus died for you and for me that we might have life. He accepted humiliation so that we could receive sanctification. The fruit of that sacrifice - His Body and Blood - will be given to us at this altar. We will be nourished so that His death on the cross will not be some past event that we commemorate but an ongoing sacrifice that we perpetuate so that the blessings and power of His passion and death may extend themselves to everyone we meet.