Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion, April 17, 2011

Isaiah 50 : 4 - 7

Philippians 2 : 6 - 11

Matthew 26 : 14 - 27 : 66

You're asking me what I know about those days it was a good long time ago, you know, and I aint as young as I used to be. Everyone says old folks have trouble remembering things what day is it, whos the emperor, what did you eat for breakfast, blah blah blah. All those silly things that people go on and on about when theyre talking with us grannies and grampies. But ask me about something important, Mister, and I can be just as sharp as they are, maybe sharper, because I seen some things well, sir, its like theyre burned into my memory. So sit down and listen up, and Ill tell you my story.

It was on a Thursday when it all beganor no, wait, Im getting ahead of myself: really, it was on the Sunday before the Thursday, when two of his friends commandeered the donkey and her colt so that he could ride into Jerusalem. It seems to me now that he just rode the mother while the little one trotted alongside, but it was hard to see that day because it was wall to wall people out there. It felt like just about the whole city was there waiting for him, cheering as he rode in, spreading branches and even their cloaks on the road before him. Everyone was saying the same thing: This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.

Everyone felt good, everyone felt excited. That whole entrance on the donkeys back was like something right out of the prophets. I ain't an educated person, Mister, as you can see, but I can tell you that everybody knew that something was up. It was like the old songs had come to life. Hosanna! was the cheer going around; that means something like Blessing! It was like we were all sharing in a great and mighty moment, like we were winners again, after being such losers for so many generations.

But then, something went wrong at least we thought so, though it sounded like he knew already what was going to happen. Like, for example, just before he came into the city hed been out in Bethany, at the house of the leper, Simon, and it seems that while they were at table, this woman comes in and anoints his head with oil. One person told me later that the aroma filled the whole house it wasnt something shed picked up at Yakobs Bargainmart, I can tell you that. Naturally, people were shocked (You ever noticed, Mister, how much people like to be shocked?) but he told them not to get upset. And why not? Well, he said, she was anointing him for his burial. I guess that put a damper on the party! But I heard that he was always saying things like that, so most of the time his friends just didnt really pay attention you know how it is: in one ear and out the other. That time he also said that her gesture would be remembered forever a bit hard to believe, considering that she was only a woman. But Im a woman, too, and when I heard about that, long after all the other things that happened, I understood. There was something so crazy about what she did and so loving that I found myself wishing it had been me though Ive got to say that an alabaster jar of costly nard aint never been seen in my little house!

So that was one dinner he loved eating out and then there was the other one on the Thursday I mentioned earlier. Its kind of a contrast, if you ask me, because unlike the one at Simons, where that woman behaved so lovingly, at this dinner, the man who had already sold him out for thirty pieces of silver had the nerve to ask him if he was the one who would betray him. Of course, he knew quite well what this guys little game was, and told him so. But he didnt go and hide, either, but just kept on his way, which led to a place called Gethsemane. I know youre not from around here, so Ill just tell you straight out that that name means Oil Press. And I tell you, Mister, he sure was pressed that night, according to the people who were there not that they hung around very long, of course, but afterward they pieced the story together. He was in some anguish that night, praying hard to Godhe called him his Father anyway, he prayed to his Father to let the upcoming trial pass him by. Meanwhile, his friends were snoring away nearby, a big help to him in his agony. He prayed, too, that his Fathers will would be done. And would you believe it? That was when his betrayer arrives. This guy gives him a big kiss on the cheek to mark him for those folks hed brought with him: a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, along with the chief priests and the elders of the people. Those were the same gentlemen whod paid the blood money to this traitor earlier.

He was calm through it all, even telling someone who pulled his sword out to put it away. He said: all who take up the sword will perish by the sword. He also said that this was all happening so that the prophets words could be fulfilled. It seems that it was just about then that everyone ran away they just hightailed it out of there. I dont know if that was part of the prophets words or not, but I do know that they all disappeared into the night. You might wonder how I know all that well, people do talk about things theyre ashamed of, you know, and then well, I dont want to get ahead of myself, but I will say that he forgave them and they came to know that and believe it. That gave them what you might call the grace to tell the truth about their actions. But thats a lot later in this story. Right now its about that Thursday night into Friday morning.

They dragged him downtown to the Sanhedrin which was a kind of religious court, and they began to trot out the false witnesses against him. Meanwhile, the big fisherman who was his best friend had kind of got back his manhood, so he went down there to see what he could see, but as soon as he opened his mouth people knew he was a country boy from up north. They said, You too were with him, but he cursed and swore his way out of that mighty quick, I can tell youthree times, in fact. This was something his friend had told him would happen, and when it did, he went away and cried like his heart was broken. I guess it was. He told me that, you know, long afterward. Such a big tough man but that broken heart of his turned him into a big gentle man, Id say. But that came later, too.

Im getting to the worst part now, Mister, so bear with me. The Sanhedrin couldnt put anyone to death, much as they would have liked to, so they sent him to the Roman governor, Pilate. Mothers around here still use his name to scare their kids if they misbehave that gives you an idea of what he was like back then. Pilate put on a nice little show for everyone, asking whether he should release him or Barabbas, who was a murderer, and everyone shouted: We want Barabbas, not this one!

You want to know how I know that? Well, like I said, this is the worst part, but Ive got to tell the truth: I was one of those people shouting outside Pilates palace. Yes, I was. It was like a fever. We all had it, and nothing would cure it except the death of this one man who never done nothin except heal the sick and feed the hungry and tell a few stories.

So, yes, sir, I was there, and I asked for his death. I aint proud of it, but its the truth. I can see youre kind of disgusted, Mister, and I dont blame you, but wait a minute, dont get up and go just yet. Ive got a little more to tell, and while its tough I want to tell you about it.

I sobered up real quick after all that. Not sure why. The big fisherman used to say that it was the work of that stuff I mentioned earlier, grace, and that seems about right to me. When youve made a mess of things, grace can do a lot for you, like helping you to right a wrong. Grace got me to being sorry for my part in all that. I think grace probably set me following him up to Golgotha, too. It was hard to watch the Roman soldiers stripping him and then nailing him to the wood, then hoisting that cross bar onto the tree trunk sunk deep in the ground, but I did it. When that thing landed in its socket there was a fearful thud and a terrible moan from him, hanging there. I stood at some distance and watched him die there. There were other women there, too real friends of his, whod come from up north with him and whod looked after him and his men. They accepted me I didnt tell them then about what Id done; that came much later.

He died crying out some part of one of our old prayer-songs sounded as if he was in torment and despair. After that, the whole place started to rattle and shake and go dark; I was terrified and thought that maybe his Father was going to destroy us right then and there. But then it cleared and calmed and all that was left was his poor dead body hanging on the tree.

They brought him down after it was all over. I heard the women keening over him and saw his mother holding him like she must have when he was a child. Then they took his body, wrapped it in a clean shroud, and laid it in a new tomb cut from the rock. A couple of men rolled a big old stone in front of it and went away. But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary stayed behind and I stayed, too, mostly just out of sorrow for what Id done and for what hed had to go through, but also because I felt some kind of comfort from being with those two. It was quiet then. Later, Pilate put a guard on the tomb so as to make sure that nobody would take the body. Night came down and we stayed, waiting on morning.

Well, Mister, that's my story of that Thursday and Friday and the Saturday, too. Its sad for sure, and even now I tremble when I think about my own small piece of it. But the story dont end there. You should talk to some other folks who can tell you what happened on the next morning I don't like to put words to that part of it. Maybe I'll just say that that Friday broke my heart, but the Sundaywell, that Sunday put it back together in a new way.

 

—Sr. Nuala Cotter, RA