Sunday is Palm Sunday, one of the two times during the year in which we hear the reading of the Passion of our lord Jesus Christ. The other, of course, being Good Friday. It is likely there will be several readers taking on various roles as they present the Passion to those gathered. The Passion, even in its grief and sorrow, is filled with hope as it leads to the Resurrection and the joy of our Easter greeting, “Jesus is risen, he is truly risen!”
I have been a reader at my parishes for many years. It is both a great blessing and enormous responsibility to proclaim Scripture to my brother and sister parishioners. Over the years I have read at Mass during every liturgical season, from Ordinary Time, Advent and Lent, to the great feasts of Easter and Christmas.
Several times I was scheduled to be a part of the reading of the Passion. We are familiar with the scenario as the presiding priest takes on the role of Jesus, a second reader is the voice of multiple characters, and another reader acts as the narrator. Finally, the voice of the crowd is supplied by the congregation.
One particular Palm Sunday I was assigned the part of the narrator. As I was giving voice to the actions of the characters in the Passion, I became increasingly agitated at the terrible things that were happening to Jesus: the Apostles falling asleep while He prayed; His betrayal by Judas; Peter’s denials; the crowning of thorns and the mocking of the crowd. As familiar as I was with the whole production, having witnessed or been part of it since my childhood, this time, as narrator, it got to me.
At one point during the Passion, Pilate poses questions to Jesus but does not get the answers he wants. He then turns to the crowd and asks “What do you want me to do with him?” We all know the answer to that question, so it was not a surprise to me when, reading my lines following Pilate’s question, I read aloud “And they answered Pilate, saying….” The crowd then responds “Crucify Him!”
I knew what they were going to say, as it was right in front of me in the script. But the response “Crucify him” shocked me. When those words came into the sanctuary, where I was standing, from all those people in the church, I remember feeling terrible fear and revulsion in their response.
When Pilate asked his question a second time and received the same response, I felt crushed, as though I was completely powerless and there was nothing that could be done to change the monstrous course of action.
As I continued reading my lines, the tale of Jesus carrying His cross, the nailing of His limbs to the cross and the cruelty of the Roman soldiers overwhelmed me and I was grievously sad. After the priest read Jesus’ last words – “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” –I turned to my script and read “Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.” It was all I could do to get those words out of my mouth as I was overcome with grief.
We all knelt down at this point. There I was, kneeling in the sanctuary of the church, tears flowing down my face over the death of Jesus.
Reading at Mass is part of my Catholic stewardship and it is usually an enjoyable experience. But stewardship isn’t always sunshine and roses. That Palm Sunday, I had to recount the cruel torture and death of my friend to hundreds of people sitting in front of me. That was unbelievably difficult.
This Palm Sunday, as you listen to the Passion of our Lord, try putting yourself in the story witnessing your friend Jesus being tortured and killed. Then, in the depths of your sorrow, remember that soon, so very soon, we will once again proclaim that He is risen, he is truly risen.