On Passion Sunday

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, 2021

We have come in the cycle of the Liturgy to the penultimate week before Great Easter, and the week prior to Holy Week, both of which encapsulate and make possible our participation in the most central realities of Christian identity. Here I refer to what the Church anciently has called the “Paschal Mystery”—Our Lord Jesus’s Passover from death to life: His Passion, Crucifixion, Death, Entombment, Resurrection, and Ascension. Enfolded into the Paschal Mystery is the Last Supper in the Upper Room and Our Lord’s institution of two Sacraments—the Eucharist and Holy Orders.

But today we are in the penultimate week, which since 1979 and the introduction of the new Prayer Book has called “the Fifth Sunday in Lent,” but which traditionally is called (and in many quarters of the western Church still is) “Passion Sunday.” The traditional Lenten pattern is four Sundays (which culminates in Mothering Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing) then the fifth (today) which is Passion Sunday, and then Holy Week—that’s Lent, which culminates itself with Easter which begins on Saturday in the Great Vigil and continues both into the Sunday as well as the next forty days until the Ascension, which reaches its culmination at the Coming of the Holy Ghost in Pentecost. Passion Sunday itself serves as a pivot point where our focus turns from our identity as a sinner (that is, our identity as people who are always in need of a savior) which is the first Lenten emphasis, to the second Lenten focus which is Our Lord and specifically His Passion.

To say all of this and to think on it all rather takes one’s breath away. These next weeks present to us one profound mystery after another—mystery upon mystery, mystery within mystery. It is in these next weeks that so many of the events, episodes, actions, and teachings of Jesus are encountered that truly help us to understand Paul’s emphasis that God also hath highly exalted Jesus, and given Him a name which is above every name—the holy Name Jesus, a name that means “saviour.”

Preparing us for the coming whirlwind of revelation is the purpose of Passion Sunday, and we see that even in our Collect: that through it all, we ask God that our hearts may surely be fixed where true joys are to be found. And where must this be but upon Jesus, His Passion, His Cross? Everything of reality and the proper understanding of reality hinges upon our understanding, our interpretation, of Jesus, His Passion, and His Cross. So much so that Our Lord taught that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. It is so marvelous that Our Lord had such compassion upon us that He would present so profound a mystery in such an ordinary and accessible metaphor: for grains of wheat must die before these can be ground into flour to able to become the heavenly bread of the Eucharist. Our Lord constantly taught His disciples that in order for Him to enter into His glory he must first die: but here He shows us that the glory that comes after His death is a glory we receive in our bodies in the Eucharist, a glory that feeds us, emboldens us, and transforms us.

It was for this purpose that He came to the hour of His Passion—that His Name, the holy and unfathomable Name of Jesus would be glorified as the Name above all names. It was for this purpose that He took upon Him our vesture, our flesh—that His Name would be glorified. It was for this purpose that He gave His life and He would be lifted up from the earth on the Cross—that His Name would be glorified among those drawn to Him, that His glory would be made known each and every time His Holy Name is uttered, spoken, and prayed. And it was for this purpose that He suffered—to show the purpose of suffering to His people, the purpose of which is learning obedience: which means for us, learning how to listen to God in times of suffering, learning how to trust God in times of suffering, and learning how to praise God in times of suffering—and learning through our suffering how Jesus Christ is the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.