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Homily - Palm Sunday 2021 - Bishop McKeown

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Sunday, 28 March 2021 

This is the beginning of an intense week. We move on a page-turning journey from 'Hosanna' today to 'Alleluia' next Sunday via 'Crucify him' on Friday. We have all the elements of an epic struggle. The insignificant figure from the country challenges the urban establishment and apparently loses. And yet, there is a twist to the story that was foretold but which no-one took seriously because it didn't seem to make sense.

But this is not just a fictional feel-good story with a happy ending – to be followed by ads for something and a news bulletin about vanity, war and tragedy. This is a story which claims to be the greatest story ever told because it helps us deal with the reality of war, vanity and tragedy. It tells us that Jesus has faced, and dealt with those forces that thought they could destroy truth and dignity. The story says that, despite the fact of abuse of power and the manipulation of the popular voice by the strong, there is one who faces that and ultimately is not crushed by the cold heavy stone that can be used to cover up so much that is unwelcome. Holy Week creates a narrative that is unwelcome and subversive for the strong, for Jesus shows that truth and strength are not enemies. In his person they come together in an audacious combination that offers salvation and hope. The true Saviour is a suffering servant and one who is not seduced into being self-serving. Holy Week is heavy-duty material. It is not nostalgic religious-themed entertainment.

One of the Prefaces used during the Lent Masses has a strong phrase. It refers to us facing our 'disordered affections'. It is always easy to condemn those in others. But all I can be responsible for it myself. It is easy to seek to crucify the enemy out there, rather than face the enemy within. Jesus encourages us all to first recognise, and deal with the plank in our own eyes before we, Pharisee-like, claim credit for damning the past or present of others. That, too, is a bridge too far for the powerful in every generation.

We have come through over five weeks of Lent. Lent does not have a meaning without Holy Week. Lent was a preparation, a time when we were getting toughened up to make us ready to face the shocking reality of Holy Week. If we have pampered ourselves during Lent and avoided doing any substantial penance, prayer or generosity, we will shirk the awfulness of these next days. They will be too tough for those who prefer to be sensible and not do anything too challenging. They will be too uncomfortable for those who preach that nothing should make us feel uncomfortable about our choices.

We have been through much over the last 12 months. As we glimpse of better days, Jesus offers hope rather than emotional junk food. This holiest of weeks, he asks us whether we are prepared to follow him to and through Calvary. If Holy Week does not challenges us emotionally and spiritually, we have missed the point.

+ Donal McKeown


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St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302

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