How a King Dies
User's Guide to Sunday, April 13
Sunday, April 13, is Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. The week brings the Easter Triduum — Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday — ending in the Easter vigil.
The Solemn Entrance: Matthew 21:1-11
Mass: Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalms 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66 or 27:11-54
On Passion Sunday, we hear the story of how a great king dies.
Jesus is treated as a king from the very beginning of Mass today, in the processional reading.
Matthew tells us that in Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem, the prophecy is fulfilled:
"Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on a donkey."
The crowd sees him as a king. "The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road," says Matthew. This is a sign of homage due to royalty. They cry out, saying, "Hosanna," which means "Save us!" They call him "the Son of David," the great king, and say, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."
So, from the start, Jesus is a great king entering into Jerusalem in a regal way. Things will change quickly once he gets there, as we know. But his demeanor won’t change.
Jesus dies with great presence and dignity.
He knows that a lot of attention will be paid to the way he dies, so he is careful with what he does and with what he says. Every movement and every word matters.
The night before he dies, he institutes the Eucharist. At the Last Supper with his apostles, Jesus makes the meal something that will endure in his kingdom.
He is forthright as he prepares his followers. Jesus doesn’t mince words. He warns them that he will be betrayed. He tells them they will be scattered. And he doesn’t let his "captain," Peter, be less than forthright. Now is not the time for bravado or wishful thinking: It is the time to face the truth — and the truth is that Peter will fail.
In the Agony in the Garden, Jesus shows his state of mind. He is courageous enough to die, but honest enough to request that, if it’s possible, he could be spared that cross.
Then when he is betrayed and put on trial, he stands up to his accusers with dignity. He doesn’t beg for mercy or loudly protest his innocence. He refuses to answer dishonest questions and, ultimately, shares the truth about himself.
Finally, he goes to his final end the way a king does: by his own power. The people misunderstand and insult him, and that’s okay. He is confident about who he is. The bad attitudes of the weak don’t affect him.
But he is more than just a great king, of course. In today’s second reading, St. Paul said Jesus "did not regard equality with God something to be grasped."
In the Passion, we find out what that meant: Jesus shows that he holds to no royal privilege. He won’t spare himself when it’s necessary in service of his people. His great love saved his people.
Ultimately, the greatest attribute our King has is love.
Tom and April Hoopes
write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer
in residence at
- April 6-19, 2014