Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday Musings

Why is it that we read the entire Passion on Palm Sunday? It's certainly not befitting the occasion, which is the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. And we're going to hear the entire thing once again on Good Friday. What gives?

The answer, as it has been explained to me, is this: most Catholics do not attend the Easter Triduum. They come on Easter Sunday, and that's about it. And therefore if you want them to hear the Passion -- and we do want that -- it makes sense to read it on the prior Sunday.

Not a very elegant explanation, I know. But it is quite practical.

Another explanation might be, we read it twice so close together so that it has a real chance of sinking in and affecting us. Which I like, in fact St. Ignatius always praised repetitio as the way in which we really learn. But at the same time, the Passion is such a long reading, if it's not done really, really well, it lends itself to some serious daydreaming.

And also, some seriously bad readings. The narrator at the service I attended today had every line overwrought with a sort of URGENT INTENSITY; the lady reading Herod and the thieves spat her statements out with an almost comic venom. It made the Passion feel like a piece of propaganda rather than a dramatic narrative that's meant to draw us into the death of God. (If you're reading this weekend, remember, less is more.)

Listening to the Passion, the one piece that stood out to me was the last little bit about Joseph of Arimathea taking care of Jesus' body. It's just fantasy on my part, I know, but I found myself thinking, what if the gospel writers inserted this Joseph to sort of fill the hole that we feel because Jesus' Joseph, his step-father, is not there? That absence has troubled me a lot in recent years. We speculate that Joseph had already died, and maybe that's the historical fact. But it doesn't really seem fair -- you wonder, if he did die before Jesus' ministry began, what did he make of the whole raising God's son life he had been asked to lead? Where are the signs and wonders for him?

And then in the Passion we have this strange coincidence of another man named Joseph who sort of fills that fatherly role, washing the body of his son and finding a place for him. It's probably wishful thinking, but that's what struck me.

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