Opening the Word: He breathed his last


For regular Mass-goers, familiarity is both gift and curse. Our bodies know what to do in the Eucharistic liturgy, how to genuflect and kneel and to proclaim the creed and when to pray the Our Father. We do not need to reflect on what we are doing but possess an unconscious competence for the liturgical act.

The shadow side of this liturgical competency is over-familiarity. We have heard these Scriptures before; we have celebrated this feast last year and the one before. What more is there for me to hear?

Of course, the regular Mass-goer would never utter these sentences aloud. We simply grow accustomed, maybe even bored of the yearly feasts of the Church.

Palm Sunday seeks to shake us out of this overly familiar posture toward the central mystery of salvation.

As the death of Christ is proclaimed, as we hear that Our Lord gives up his very last breath to the Father, we kneel in silence.

This is not the normal relationship we possess relative to our texts or images. The reading of the evening news communicates information, perhaps eliciting certain feelings in us. But we are not participants in the act. We are observers, watchers and, for the most part, outsiders to the events being covered.

Not so with the passion of Our Lord. We hear, “Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last” (Mk 15:37). And then we kneel.

How often we say perhaps without thought that Jesus suffered and died and rose again. The events are so familiar to us that we can forget the wondrous beauty that unfolds upon that cross.

Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human, takes upon himself the darkness of human sin and death. The crowds that first fete him as he enters Jerusalem, no longer sing hymns of praise but demand that he dies. They reject him, just like the prophets were rejected.

Except he is no ordinary prophet, no run-of-the-mill Isaiah or Jeremiah. He is the God-man, the Word made flesh, the splendor of the Father.

And he breathes his last.

Earlier in Mark, Jesus told us that all this was going to happen. Peter had confidently professed Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the great anointed one and king. Salvation had arrived, for at least, there would be a powerful king.

And now, we reach the point where Christ exercises the fullness of his kingship. He breathes his last, offering his spirit up to the Father. The suffering he endured was out of love for men and women, for his Father who sent him into the world.

As we hear in the Philippians’ hymn on this Passion Sunday, Jesus did not claim equality with God to be grasped at. He is not like Adam or Eve or David and Solomon. He is not like Peter and James and John. He empties himself, gives himself, reveals to us upon that tree what it means to be God.

Not to seize power, to control everything. But to give oneself up in love for the life of the world. There’s the power, the mystery that turns the world upside down.

So, let us bend the knee, as Our Lord breathes his last. Let us not remain spectators to the drama unfolding before us. God is revealing to us that power is made perfect in weakness, in a love that does not seize or grasp but gives unto the end.

Bend the knee before the mystery of love. Kneel before the wood of the cross upon which is hung our salvation.

Come, let us adore.

March 28 – Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Mk 11:1-10
Is 50:4-7
Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1–15:47


This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.


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