St Mark’s Gospel of the Passion is the great reading on Passion Sunday. The first reading of all on this day is for the procession, commemorating the event which has been called the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. There is an irony in this ‘triumph’. Although in this scene, people are singing and cheering on the Lord, it seems that at that moment the authorities took no notice. Here in Mozambique, it is forbidden to ride on a donkey and although the people on the mountain above us here have donkeys for transporting goods, I have never seen anybody riding one. The reason, perhaps, is respect for this humble creature who had the honour of transporting Jesus.
The other readings starkly present the great sacrifice of Jesus and show that God did not abandon Him.
The Gospel of the Passion gives us the gist of what we commemorate in Holy Week. Mark, who so wonderfully presents the human face of Jesus, does not look for excuses for the hatred of the enemies of Jesus or the cowardice of his friends.
For me, the Passion is the high point of Jesus’ victory over fear, hatred, betrayal, torture and death. That his friends, disciples, apostles, were so hopeless at the time of his suffering and death, underlines the massive transformation produced in the lives of his disciples by the death and resurrection of Jesus. That transformation is like the difference between night and day.
Of course, Easter is that great ‘day’. The change in the disciples which most impresses me is the move from fear to courage – the courage to risk death and go all the way for Christ. Most of them did as He did, pouring out their blood in different ways rather than staying quiet about Jesus.
Indeed, the most crippling fear I know is the fear of death. Covid 19 has done its damage and when news of its dangerous spread reached me here in Mozambique, I felt that fear.
As somebody who narrowly escaped death (on Pentecost Sunday, in Angola in 1985, I still find it difficult to think happily of the resurrection as was usual in Angola at that time with mined roads and lurking ambushes.
But, in the face of present dangers, the death of loved ones, including the wonderful confrères who have gone to the heavenly banquet in recent times, the only story worth believing in is the story of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection. That is the Good News, the greatest news for me.