Homily for the Mass of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord Year B 2018 - St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
25 Mar 2018

Homily for the Mass of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord Year B 2018
St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark is a powerful, no-nonsense telling of the story of Jesus' last day (Mk chs 14 & 15). Though it might have just seemed long to you, it's actually the shortest of the four versions and it has some unique features. One is its stark realism. Mark tells it like it is. His Jesus is no demigod, no superhero. He is indeed the Son of God but He is also very much a man. We see his agony, fear, betrayal; his arrest, torture and death in all its detail.

Amidst all this awfulness, Mark offers some light relief: the apostles, drunk from Passover feasting and bored with prayer, cannot stay awake; they put up a pathetic defence when Jesus is arrested. Peter breaks his oaths as quickly as he makes them. And there's a young man with "nothing on but linen cloth", the Ancient Near Eastern equivalent of his underpants. "They grabbed him, but he left the cloth in their hands and ran away naked."

Who is Mark's mysterious man? Some say it's the evangelist himself. We don't know, but this much is clear: public nudity may be all very well on some Australian beaches, as it was amongst the ancient Greeks and Romans in sports and public baths, but it was never acceptable for the Hebrews. For them it was a symbol of degradation; 'naked' meant wretched, pitiable, at a very low ebb. For a man to flee starkers from the scene is not just light relief: it tells of profound humiliation, exposure, disillusionment. It is the story of humanity bereft; a chronicle of every human being when desperate and ashamed, when abandoning principles or overwhelmed by problems. It is the story of every person, weak, confused, tired, sinful, sick, lonely - in fright and flight.

Behold man: fallen mankind, broken humanity, Adam and Eve naked of power, friendship, hope and esteem; subject to Sin, the Flesh and the Devil; exposed and disgraced, destined for death; every human being in raw need of salvation.

There is, of course, another uncovering in this Passion. They stripped Jesus, dividing His clothing among them: for He must be subjected to every indignity, carrying to Calvary not just the weight of the Cross but of every human sin and anguish. He prays with each of us at our lowest ebb the psalm of hope but also of lament: My God, why have you forsaken me?

Ecce homo, behold the Man! Behold true Life destined for death; to this abyss of oblivion destiny draws Him, as it does every human being. Jesus joins Mark's wretched youth but is stripped not just of clothes, but of divine glory, human dignity, friends, even seemingly His Father-God. He joins us at our weakest, for even in beautiful Sydney there can be depression, desperation and shame; some are sick, sinful, at the end of their tether; indeed, all of us are, at one time or another.

So they killed the man-God, pinning on Him every sin, wrapping Him up in a linen shroud with the aloes of every human sadness and the myrrh of every human need. Then they covered the tomb with a stone…

Yet, as on the first Easter morning, they found the tomb empty and the shroud abandoned, not because Jesus remains nakedly needy for ever, but because His is the robe of divine splendour. "Sing, sing to Lord, He has covered Himself with glory!" (Ex 15:1) The Son of Man will be wrapped in majesty as in a robe (Ps 104:2), His human body drawn up into the life of heaven.

Dare we hope for new life in our struggles too? Is there a promise of Resurrection for us also? Next Sunday, when we look again into the tomb, we will see it is not quite empty. St Mark tells us that on entering the tomb on Easter morning, "They saw a young man dressed in a white robe and they were struck with amazement; but he said: Don't worry; Jesus has risen, He is not here." (Mk 16:1-7) Is this that same anonymous youth who only a few verses before was streaking away from the scene? Is this the same humanity, once lost and confused, denuded of dignity and hope, now no longer in flight but seated confidently in a shining white alb of hope? At Easter we will see mankind, no longer bereft but new-clothed in righteousness, radiating the promise of the Risen Lord!

But to get from here to there we must first walk the way of sorrows with Christ this Holy week. Before we hear the young man say to us: be not afraid, not afraid to rise up out of the tomb of your own hurts and grievances, your sins and compulsions, not afraid to face that from which you've been running - before we can hear that, we will partake in the portentous last supper, the prayer in the garden, the desertion, the trial and flogging, the crucifixion and burial. But whatever it is we must endure this week, every week, any week, bring these things to the Risen Lord ready to experience grace, redemption, new life. Be ready to be transformed like that first young disciple, ready to become a saint, an evangelist, a witness of Christ to our world!