Palm Sunday

March 20, 2016 / By: Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11 and Luke 22:14—23:56

I have been involved in a project in which I have tried to write a hymn text for every Sunday and Solemnity of the three-year Roman Rite lectionary cycle.  On Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion in all three years, the First Reading, Responsorial Psalm and Second Reading are the same; the distinctive character of the celebration is found in the two Gospel passages proclaimed, one at the procession with palms and the other the proclamation of a synoptic Passion account as part of the Liturgy of the Word at Mass.  In contrast to Matthew’s (Year A) and Mark’s (Year B) Passion narratives where the “revolutionaries” who were crucified with Jesus both abuse him along with the crowd, Luke recounts a story in which one of the “criminals” crucified with Jesus asks him to remember him when he enters his kingdom and Jesus replies assuring him of entry into paradise.

“The Multitude Stands Watching” emphasizes the distinctive Lucan theme of the mercy of the Crucified One. Stanza one positions Jesus observed by the crowd as both Jewish religious leaders and Roman military figures mock and dishonor him. Stanzas two and three focus on the interchange between the criminal recognizing his own just punishment in contrast to Jesus’ innocence, and Jesus’ mercy to this petitioner, actualizing what he had earlier prayed on behalf of those bringing him to death. The final stanza invites the worshipping community to identify both with the “good thief” and those responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion, and to beg mercy and forgiveness from the one who is given “the name above all names” as the Philippians Canticle reminds us.  I strongly recommend singing this text to PASSION CHORALE, the tune Roman Catholics will recognize as "O Sacred Head surrounded."

The multitude stands watching;
their leaders curse and jeer,
as “Save yourself, King Jesus,”
the soldiers mock and sneer.
Outside the holy city,
with thieves on either side,
the Lord of life is dying,
disgraced and crucified.

Yet one who hangs beside him
and shares his cruel fate
repudiates the frenzy,
injustice, lies and hate.
He turns his gaze to Jesus
and makes a final plea:
“When you come to your kingdom,
Good Master, think of me.”

For in this place of torture,
his hands and feet pierced through,
Christ prayed: “Forgive them, Father,
they know not what they do,”
Now he forgives the brigand
with sov’reign charity:
“In Paradise, I tell you,
today your place shall be.”

O Jesus, loving Savior,
O name above all names,
your suffering we honor,
your mercy we acclaim.
Ashamed, confused and sinful,
we know not what we do;
remember us, sustain us
in Paradise with you.

Fr. Jan Michael Joncas
Artist in Residence and Research Fellow in Catholic Studies