You know this is a special Sunday when we have two gospels.  And, you can’t help but notice how different our two Gospel passages are in tone and sentiment.  We began with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem to the adulation of the crowd, and followed it with Mark’s account of his passion, at the hands of that same crowd.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, he is at first the focus of Israel’s deepest hopes and dreams.  Frenzied crowds shout with pleading and joy – Hosanna – which means both, “save us, we pray” and “salvation is here”!  It’s a word we’re all familiar with since it’s part of the “Holy, Holy, Holy” acclamation at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer at every Mass.  It’s important to realize what we’re proclaiming with this word.  On the one hand, we are pleading with God to save us from our trials and struggles – often the result of our sinful nature – and we’re proclaiming our belief that we are, indeed, saved by God’s merciful care for us.  In today’s first Gospel, Jesus is acclaimed as the one who comes in the name of the Lord and successor to David.  The people surrounding him are praying for him to save them and showing their confidence that he is, indeed, the one who has come to save them.  Jesus is given the royal treatment – a carpet of cloaks and leafy branches.  It’s like the red carpet treatment of the day.  As the procession grows, we can only imagine the crowd’s reaction.  Voices swell and fill the air; people join in the commotion, finding themselves swept up in all the anticipation and excitement.

Then all of a sudden the mood changes. The Passion Narrative that we all just participated in announces that the king has been reduced to a common criminal, condemned and led out for execution.  The victory branches and cloaks are replaced with whips, spit and choking dust.  The colt that carried him in triumph is gone and instead, Jesus carries a heavy and awkward beam himself, upon which his broken and bloodied body will be hoisted up to die.

The crowd has changed from celebration to cries for execution – the procession of palms to a death march as the shouts of joy are now replaced by the sound of the lash.  Cries of “Hosanna” have become “crucify him.  How fickle the crowd can be!  How quickly it can change!

Among all the cruel and violent persons we hear about in Jesus’ suffering, it is easy to overlook those who were kind.  At Bethany just a few days earlier, Simon the leper offered him hospitality, and a woman with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil anointed Jesus in anticipation of his death.

Then, in Jerusalem there was Simon of Cyrene who helped carry his cross, Veronica who wiped the blood and sweat from his face and Joseph of Arimathea who courageously asked Pilate for the body of Jesus and laid him in a new tomb. Brave women accompanied him as he stumbled up to Golgotha, offering comfort and strength and then went to his tomb to anoint his body after he died.  All of these people, and perhaps more whom we do not even know about, were glimpses of light at a time of darkness.

They were peace amidst conflict; comfort amidst sorrow; hope in the midst of tragedy.  In other words, they are a sort of allegory to the hope of Easter that was present on Good Friday.

We experience all of this so powerfully today on Palm Sunday.  We are an Easter people who frequently find ourselves living in a Good Friday world.  We believe that Jesus’ death on the cross transformed all suffering and that by his resurrection, we have the promise of eternal life.  But we live in the here and now, with all the suffering and evil still present in the world – a world in which we are called to be active witnesses to our faith.  Every moment of our lives gives us a chance to be one or other of the type of persons we encounter in the passion narratives.  With God’s help, may we be like Simon and the woman at Bethany, Simon of Cyrene, Joseph of Arimathea and the women who walked with Jesus – signs of hope in a world that cries out for it 

As we journey this Holy Week, let us keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus, who has come to save us.  He does not yield to the winds of popularity nor give into the power of the crowd or the empty demands of this world.  He knows his mission; he is determined to be faithful to the very end.  He is obedient to death – even death on a cross.

This is our holiest week; it demands our attention and even more our participation.  Here is our opportunity to share in Christ’s passion, for that is the only way to share in his Resurrection.

The cross of Jesus leads to the empty tomb, but it is not the end.  Our lives proclaim that we trust the promise that Jesus’ way is the way that leads to everlasting life and endless joy in God’s loving embrace.  Let us accompany Jesus this Holy Week as we prepare to share in the joy of the Resurrection!