Reflection for the Palm Sunday
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
A powerful line from an unknown creative writer says, “without sacrifice, there is no victory.” But what is sacrifice in the real sense of the word? According to Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, “to be real, a sacrifice must cost, hurt, and empty ourselves.”
Sacrifice is a powerful evidence of love. Recall that our Lord Jesus Christ says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). David would say to Araunah (2 Samuel 24:24), “I will not offer to God a sacrifice that cost me nothing,” when the latter wanted to give him a free threshing floor to build an altar of sacrifice to God.
Sacrifice is giving up something of the greatest value to oneself to benefit another. Sacrifice is a spiritual currency that could purchase God’s attention and move him to act.
It is Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday. The peculiarity of the celebration of Palm Sunday is that it brings two extreme passions together: praise and persecution, joy and sadness, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” and “crucify him.”
The Irony of the Triumphant Entry
The Gospel Reading (Matt. 21:1-11) we read at the ceremony of the Palms tells us how our Lord Jesus Christ sent two of his disciples to a nearby village to untie and bring an ass (donkey) and a colt to him as the transport system to Jerusalem where he would accomplish the purpose of his coming; “to suffer and die on the cross for the sin of the world.”
The two disciples and animals represent the two natures of Christ involved in our redemption and the inclusion of our body and soul, male and female, old and young, Jews and non-Jews, in God’s salvific plan. There is no negotiation about this plan, so nobody can stop them from bringing the animals because “the Master needs them.”
The joy of the crowd as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the ass was unimaginable and spontaneous. How did the crowd come to that prophetic praise lyrics, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest?” When God begins to stir people, every human protocol fails.
The Sacrifice of Christ
The triumphant entry was the entrance of the victim of the highest sacrifice that would pay the price of the ancient sin of the world. In the Jewish tradition, a spotless lamb is carefully guided to the place of sacrifice; it must be without stain, so it is carried. This is symbolically how Jesus, the victim of the sacrifice and the priest, is carried into the city of the sacrifice even without any stain.
The Sacrifice of the Passover
An average Christian would assume that the sacrifice of Jesus was just on the cross; that is correct but incomplete. The sacrifice started during the last supper with the disciples, so the passion narratives started from celebrating the Passover with the disciples. In fact, during the Passover meal, the spotless lamb is offered as a victim of sacrifice by the priest, who is also the victim.
The sacrifice of the Passover opened the door to the sacrifice on the Cross. In order words, Calvary would have been impossible without the event at Last Supper. Check out the exact words of Jesus on this: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-16).
St. Paul said (2 Cor. 5:21), “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This scripture finds expression in the event at the Last Supper. Recall what Jesus said earlier in John (6:56). “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”
It was exactly through this divine technology that our Lord Jesus Christ became sin for us. So, he sacrificed to become sin to take away our agelong burden of sin. Isaiah describes this sacrifice very well when he says: “But he was wounded for the wrong things we did. He was crushed for the evil things we did. The punishment, which made us well, was given to him. And we are healed because of his wounds.” (Isaiah 53:5 ICB).
The Sacrifice of Gethsemane and Gabbatha
After the Last Supper, the supreme divine nature stepped aside from Jesus, thus becoming pitiably vulnerable like never before in Gethsemane and Gabbatha, a huge sacrifice. The weight of our sin pressed him so much that he asked the Father if He could take the cup from him (Luke 22:42). In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was arrested. Notice that nobody could arrest Jesus until after the Passover.
At Gabbatha, Jesus was condemned, slapped, flogged, beaten, and cajoled. Recall also that nobody could lay a hand on him before now. Even when they had an opportunity to throw him down from the cliff at Nazareth (Luke 4:29), he walked away from them because he had not become sin as the hour had not yet come.
The Sacrifice of Calvary
At Calvary, Jesus paid the ultimate price by sacrificing his life. Recall that Jesus could die because he became sin. When in his humanity, he cried: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34), the Father could not help him because God cannot behold sin (Psalm 5:4). The only thing the father could hold was his Spirit as Jesus was breathing his last and cried: “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” He would still need His spirit to complete the work of salvation, culminating in the resurrection and ascension.
Moving Forward: Adopting the Way of Sacrifice
God gave His only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the only dependable sacrifice to purchase our redemption. However, our salvation as individuals would depend on how we can use the currency of sacrifice to access the finished work of Christ.
Self-denial: Self-denial is a path to sacrifice. Recall that Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take their cross, and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24). Our Lord Jesus denied himself by dropping his equality with and becoming a servant (Phil. 2:6-7).
Self-giving: Beyond self-denial, sacrifice involves offering up oneself completely, which is exactly what Jesus Christ did (1 John 3:16). So, St. Paul would advise that we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God, our spiritual worship (Romans 12:1)
It is not enough for us to be emotional about the pain and suffering of our Lord on the journey to our salvation this season. On the contrary, the salutary sacrifice of Christ should challenge our sacrifice, and the good news is that what we lose now cannot be compared to what we shall gain hereafter (1 Cor. 2:9).
God bless you!