When I was younger, right up until about this year, I felt really uncomfortable with the Passion Gospel in the liturgy on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. There are the obvious reasons for this, namely, the betrayal, abuse, and crucifixion of Jesus. The Gospel in these liturgies–fittingly–does not end with the Resurrection, and so even though we know what happens next in the story, we have a concrete temporal period of somber waiting.
For several years, I got sick at Mass every Palm Sunday. It was the sort of feeling that struck suddenly and made me feel as if I were about to faint or throw up, and I would have to run outside to get some air. I’m an anxious person prone to migraines, so getting sick at Mass is not particularly surprising, especially when I haven’t eaten and Mass is longer than usual. But the consistent illnesses of Palm Sunday struck me. Even when I began to anticipate what would happen and took precaution by eating and staying hydrated, I still got sick.
I don’t know for sure why I got sick. But I do know that, in addition to the physical illness, I felt a distinct emotional discomfort every year. And I realized that it had to do with the reading of the Gospel. The Passion definitely comes to life more than other Gospel readings during the liturgy because of the different voices. No other reading is formatted in the liturgy to read like a script. The thing that struck me most, though, was our participation in the reading. We, the congregation, are assigned the voice of the crowd that calls for Jesus to be crucified. We ourselves say the words that led to Jesus’s death: “Crucify him.”
It was saying these words that I just couldn’t get behind. I did not want to call for Jesus to be killed. I did not want to be a part of a crowd that rejected Him, that maltreated Him, that crucified Him. So I would speak the words quietly and hesitantly as I followed along with the Gospel, wishing that I weren’t saying them at all.
I think that what I didn’t realize is that I am just as guilty as everyone in that crowd. Every time I choose something other than Jesus–every time I seek my own will instead of His–I am saying, “Crucify him.” My sins, all of our sins are the reason He died. I am responsible. And I need Him to die and to rise, glorious and triumphant, to save me.
I am not literally in the crowd that crucified Jesus more than two thousand years ago. But, as His sacrifice is relived at each Mass as a sign of the eternal covenant, I am nevertheless a participant. If I think that I shouldn’t join in the voice of the crowd during the Passion, then I am doing no more than deceiving myself and succumbing to pride. Because of my sin, I need to recommit myself to Jesus every day so that I don’t continue to live with the spirit of that crowd.
Ever since I moved to Boston, I haven’t gotten sick on Palm Sunday. I’ve been fortunate to sing with the choir at my church, so that might have something to do with it. It’s hard to say for sure. But at the very least, though I still feel grief at Jesus’s death, I can now feel comfortable speaking with the voice of the crowd, knowing that Christ, in rising, has given me the opportunity to reject my former self and say yes to Him. My grief will be transformed into joy on Easter.