Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion
IS 50:4-7/PHIL 2:6-11/MT 26:14—27:66 OR 27:11-54
The readings for Palm Sunday present us with many familiar images from the final days of Jesus’s earthly ministry. Less familiar, however, is an easily overlooked portion of Matthew’s gospel that closely follows Jesus’s death. After the veil is torn, we are told, “The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many” (Matthew 27:52-53). These verses are only found in Matthew, and although they are somewhat disorienting and unexpected, they have a special pertinence this particular Palm Sunday.
These verses seem to jump to the end of the story. Christians typically regard Christ’s resurrection as the first fruits of what is to come for us at the eschaton. Added to that understanding we have here the raising of many saints immediately after Jesus’s death. Jesus seems to get straight to work on what later figures will call the harrowing of hell. He instantly begins to free the dead from their tombs upon his death.
Although these verses might strike one as spoiling the dramatic tension of Holy Week, I want to suggest that this particular Palm Sunday they offer much-needed reassurance. This Palm Sunday we are acutely aware of suffering and death as the ravages of disease continue throughout the world and in our local communities. As we enter into Holy Week, as we enter into death, these verses proclaim at the outset what awaits on the other side. They display the eagerness with which Jesus fulfills his work of liberating us from death. Here on Palm Sunday we are already told that death will not have the last word. Such assurance could not be more well timed.
Dr. Mark McInroy
Associate Professor, Theology Department