This year (Year B) in the three year cycle of our lectionary, for Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, the Gospel Reading before the procession with palm branches and the Passion account itself are from the Gospel of St. Mark. As I prepared myself for tomorrow morning, for some reason, I asked what is different about the account from St. Mark chosen for this day. I found three striking differences from the prescribed Passion accounts, both for Year A from St. Matthew and for Year C from St. Luke.
Only the Palm Sunday account of St. Mark begins with the Anointing at Bethany; only St. Mark concludes with the account of the Deposition and of Jesus' burial; only St. Mark mentions the disturbing incident of the young man wrapped in a sheet following from Gethsemane, who when seized by Jesus' captors, drops the cloth and runs off naked into the darkness.
I think it would be wrong to build a Palm Sunday homily around commenting on these peculiarities of the account of St. Mark. In churchgoing societies, Palm Sunday is the one sure annual exposure for most people to the Passion of our Lord. People don't all make it to church on Good Friday to hear the reading of the Passion according to St. John. The first and second readings on this Palm Sunday do not change; they are the same in all three years and understandably so, as they work most eloquently to mediate the central message of the Passion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The preacher should take his cue as to what is most important from them.
If I had to say something about these three "peculiarities" of the account from St. Mark, I would speak of my impression that all three highlight humble followers: "a woman", "a young man", Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalen and Mary the mother of Joses. As followers, they are witnesses and perhaps something more: the woman by her anointing of His Body, the young man who failed in his intention to follow Jesus to judgment and fled in fright, those who took down His lifeless Body from the Cross and laid Him in the Tomb. Their actions all seem helpless gestures in the face of events centered upon the Person of Christ and of which He alone is the Protagonist. All we can say is that none of these witnesses nor their efforts has been forgotten, neither in St. Mark's Gospel nor in the Mind of Christ.
St. Gregory Nazianzen in a pre-Passover homily (2nd Reading from today's Office) invites us to see our role in our following, in our witnessing through sharing in the great events of the Passion of Christ:
“I will say more: we must sacrifice ourselves to God, each day and in everything we do, accepting all that happens to us for the sake of the Word, imitating his passion by our sufferings, and honoring his blood by shedding our own. We must be ready to be crucified.
If you are a Simon of Cyrene, take up your cross and follow Christ. If you are crucified beside him like one of the thieves, now, like the good thief, acknowledge your God. For your sake, and because of your sin, Christ himself was regarded as a sinner; for his sake, therefore, you must cease to sin. Worship him who was hung on the cross because of you, even if you are hanging there yourself. Derive some benefit from the very shame; purchase salvation with your death. Enter paradise with Jesus, and discover how far you have fallen. Contemplate the glories there, and leave the other scoffing thief to die outside in his blasphemy.
If you are a Joseph of Arimathea, go to the one who ordered his crucifixion, and ask for Christ’s body. Make your own the expiation for the sins of the whole world. If you are a Nicodemus, like the man who worshiped God by night, bring spices and prepare Christ’s body for burial. If you are one of the Marys, or Salome, or Joanna, weep in the early morning. Be the first to see the stone rolled back, and even the angels perhaps, and Jesus himself.”
O Jesus, by Thy Passion
Thy Life in us increase...
Thy Death for us did fashion
Our Pardon and our Peace.