Palm Sunday
30 Mar 2020
Fr. vănThanh Nguyễn, SVD
Rev. vănThanh Nguyễn, SVD

First Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-7
Responsorial Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
Second Reading: Philippians 2: 6-11
Gospel: Matthew 26:14-27:66

The weight of the pandemic is the burden we all bear

We are living in an unprecedented time in history. The COVID-19, or the coronavirus, has interrupted our lives and turned our world completely upside down. It is simply unimaginable that an invisible virus could have such a deadly effect on such a global scale. In just a short time, as we all have experienced in the last weeks, life changes, and the normal rhythm of life ceases. From schools to churches to businesses, many activities have stopped. Public events are either postponed or cancelled. Large gatherings are prohibited. In some countries, no more than two people are allowed to be together in public. Many cities and states have issued orders to practice “social distancing” and to stay home to prevent the pandemic curve.

Everyone is currently feeling the weight of COVID-19. This heavy load that many of us are carrying seems almost unbearable, especially for those who have been fatally infected and those whose loved ones have died. Many of us who are hunkering down at home feel the same weight because we are unable to be with our community to celebrate mass this Sunday and possibly many more Sundays to come.

This Sunday’s Eucharist normally begins with a joyous procession. With palm branches in hand, we would sing victorious hymns to commemorate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. But on this particular Palm Sunday, many or most people are at home and unable to go to church. This circumstance should not prevent us, however, from being in communion with one another through God’s word and spirit. The Scripture readings of this Sunday invite us to muster all the strength and faith that we possess to courageously carry our heavy burdens just as Jesus himself bore the weight of the cross for us and for our salvation.

Jesus too felt the weight of the cross when he set his face toward Jerusalem. He felt the burden of the cross in the Garden of Gethsemane saying, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.” So much so that Jesus asked to be relieved from it if it were possible. Nevertheless, Jesus resolved to faithfully carry out God’s will till the end. As a perfect obedient Son of God —“even unto death”— Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies, not as a royal messianic king but as a suffering servant. Similar to the suffering servant of Isaiah (as portrayed in our first reading from Isaiah 50), Jesus gave his back to those who struck him and his cheeks to those who plucked his beard. He valiantly accepted the pain and suffering that were inflicted upon him. How was Jesus able to endure such humiliation and affliction without complaint or retaliation? Like the suffering servant, Jesus was completely confident in God’s help and protection. Before he died on the cross Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” These are the chanting pleas for divine protection and comfort of an innocent person found in Psalm 22, which is the Responsorial Psalm for this Sunday.

What can we learn from Jesus’s passion and death at this extremely challenging time of ours? Jesus certainly knows our pain and the heavy load that we all bear. The sacrifices we make, however, can save our life as well as the life of others. We do not suffer alone, but Jesus too suffers along with us. In this unprecedented time, may we be even more united in prayer and solidarity for each other and especially with our brothers and sisters who are severely or even fatally affected by the pandemic. Like Jesus, may we place our complete trust in God’s mercy and wisdom, with the confidence that God will give us the grace to get through this difficult time. I would like to conclude by citing the “Prayer for a Pandemic” that was composed by the Federation of Liturgical Commission:

Let us pray,
For all who have contracted coronavirus,
We pray for care and healing.
For those who are particularly vulnerable,
We pray for safety and protection.
For all who experience fear or anxiety,
We pray for peace of mind and spirit.
For affected families who are facing difficult decisions
between food on the table or public safety,
We pray for policies that recognize their plight.
For those who do not have adequate health insurance,
We pray that no family will face financial burdens alone.
For those who are afraid to access care due to immigration status,
We pray for recognition of the God-given dignity of all.
For our brothers and sisters around the world,
We pray for shared solidarity.
For public officials and decision-makers,
We pray for wisdom and guidance.
Father, during this time may your Church be a sign of hope, comfort and love to all.
Grant peace.
Grant comfort.
Grant healing.
Be with us, Lord.

Rev. vănThanh Nguyễn, SVD
Professor of New Testament Studies