Given at Palm Sunday Mass on 25 March 2018 at Westminster Cathedral
Today we begin our celebration of Holy Week, walking in step with our Lord and Master, Jesus, the Christ.
We have begun with his entry into Jerusalem, with its shouts of Hosanna, re-enacted in our procession into the Cathedral.
This event took place in Jerusalem, at the Feast of the Passover, when Jerusalem and all the surrounding countryside was packed with pilgrims coming to fulfil their duties of Temple worship. At this event, it was not uncommon, indeed, it was expected, that someone would appear at the top of the Mount of Olives and proclaim himself to be the Messiah. A crowd would gather and follow the self-proclaiming prophet down the hill and into the city of Jerusalem. There the police would break up the crowd before it became a riot.
So it surprised few when Jesus appeared. But this time, he was proclaimed by the crowd, not by himself, and they duly lead him down into Jerusalem. We heard the shout that went up: 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' The crowd is confident that in Jesus they see one chosen by God to fulfil their hopes.
But now we are within the Cathedral. Already the words of the Holy Scripture we have heard take us beyond that moment. Now we have truly entered Holy Week, looking ahead to the events of Thursday, Friday and Saturday in which the true identity of Jesus will be made clear. We have moved, rather rapidly, from the joyful shouts of Palm Sunday to the reality of the Passion of Our Lord, to the suffering, the self-emptying, that it demanded.
The bridge we have crossed was spelt out in the first reading. We are the disciples. As disciples, we have heard these words: 'Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple.'
Mostly, you and I do not begin our day with listening to the Lord. More likely, we check our emails, or speak to those nearest to us. But when we do listen to the Lord we hear the story of his cross, the journey he takes, for us, through suffering and death into new life.
This morning we have indeed listened. We heard this account in the second reading, from St Paul. He tells us the true story of Jesus: his state was divine; he assumed the condition of a slave; even to accepting death; but God raised him high. Now we know what is to be done: all beings should bend the knee at the name of Jesus. Now we have another shout: not 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord', but 'Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.'
This is the truth of the One whom we follow this week. He is not simply someone chosen by God, someone who speaks to us of God, but he is the Lord, he is the Godhead, he is the divine being come into our midst.
This seriously changes everything. For once, there is an action of a human person, which is also, fully, and unequivocally, the action of God. For once, the human and the divine have come together in a decisive power. This means that his victory over death, accomplished only by the power of God, is ours too; his victory over the corrosion of sin, accomplished by the power of God's love, is also ours. This victory comes to us through him because he has fully embraced our humanity and taken it into this struggle and, in his victory, he has brought back to us our humanity, healed and entire.
This is why we proclaim: 'At the name of Jesus all beings should bend the knee'. Through him, we cannot only see our way out of the wood of life but also we know that, if we stay with him, we have a new energy, a new power to carry us through. Today, as we ponder this great gift of life restored, of brokenness healed, we can also discover, again, how to wince when someone takes the name of Jesus in vain. They may know that name only as an expression of frustration or disgust. To wince at that misuse of the Holy Name is to show our love for him. To ask for more respect is an act of courage and a witness to our faith.
Throughout this Holy Week, we shall ponder the marvellous ways in which the human and the divine come together, uniquely, in Jesus. This is like two elements when combined creating great energy. Here is an astonishing synergy, which breaks open the mystery of God, making clear God's closeness and God's inner life. This moment of synergy also transforms our understanding of ourselves and makes clear the eternal destiny to which we are called. No longer are we an excitable crowd, running after the latest self-proclaiming guru, but now we are intentional disciples, focused on the one person, Jesus, who can lift us beyond our uncertainty and welcome us into the tender mercy of God. Let us follow him, wholeheartedly this week, taking each step in union with him, giving him our hearts, for truly Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, for ever and ever.
+ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster