Palm Sunday: Destroying and Rebuilding the Body
Fr. José Granados, dcjm
Palm Sunday is the solemn threshold of the Passion. This is the vantage point to interpret all the sufferings of Jesus, who continually looks to the Father. For the “Hosanna” that we sing asks God for victory and thanks Him for it at the same time, with sure hope in His salvation. There is a striking change from “Hosanna” to “Crucify him!” that the fickle crowd reveals. The key to understand this change is the destination Jesus has when he enters the Holy City: the Temple of God.
In fact, in the synoptic Gospels, after the entrance in Jerusalem comes the driving out of the moneychangers in the Temple: a prophetic sign wrought by Jesus, who cleanses the Temple because He is going to renew its form of worship. The Jews would come to remind him of his own words at the foot of the cross: he said would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days, let him save himself. Jesus had already pointed out the relationship between saving the Temple and saving himself, when he spoke “of the Temple of his body.” This allows us to look at the Passion we read today from this perspective: Jesus is cleansing the Temple of our body and is building a new Temple.
The Temple is the place where God dwells with men. In a certain sense it is a symbol of the whole of creation: the cosmos was depicted on the veil that separated the “Holy of Holies” and on the High Priest’s tunic. The story of Genesis, when God makes the world and on the seventh day rests in it, runs a parallel with Exodus, when God builds the Temple and, once finished, rests in it. The place where His glory is to be found in the world is the human body, Adam and Eve’s spousal body, fashioned in the image of their Creator.
Let us follow the Passion in this way. First, let us look at the figure of Jesus. Jesus’ body is continually being destroyed, as Saint Paul says: “our earthly dwelling shall be destroyed” (2 Cor 5:1). This is the working of death and sin, that Jesus takes on himself. Adam’s sweat, caused by sin, and the thistles sprung from the earth, culminate in the drops of blood that Jesus sweats, that are soaked up by the crown of thorns. We see man’s erect posture in the dust, when Jesus falls, his knees weak and his exhausted back whipped. His face, the human face where the glory of God shines, must submit to disgraceful spitting. His hands, the expression of freedom in the midst of human work, are nailed to the cross.
Meanwhile, though, the body of Jesus is being remade and prepared for the Resurrection. His death is an ascendant death, rising up to the place where the body is exposed on high; he stands up, he looks to the heavens, he stretches out his hands in an embrace of communion. It is true, they take away his tunic, which is a priestly tunic, but it is because his very body is to be dressed in his glory that Adam had lost, until the Centurion sees in this man the son of God.
Let us, secondly, examine the relationships that open up to the body, for the body is a Temple because it unites brothers together, and makes one Temple out of the whole family and the whole people. In the Passion, relationships also fall apart. The disciples abandon him, with the shame of betrayal, that profanes the trust toward the body. The Sanhedrin is a nest of unrighteousness. Something like a body of sin, an anti-temple is made: Jews and gentiles, the symbol of all men, have crucified the Lord of glory.
But, on the other hand, new relationships are created in the Passion, among which God dwells. On the one hand, the Eucharist, which is a body for Jesus, like his Father’s house, where there are many mansions. Jesus announces to the daughters of Jerusalem the destruction of the Temple, but likewise presents himself as hope for them: I am the green wood, that is to blossom. We can already perceive the bud, at the foot of the cross, where Mary and John are. We can begin to see that He has died in order to join all the dispersed sons of God together in one body – in one family.
The temple is, in the third place, the center of the praise of God. The Passion reveals to us a perverted language. There are lies that he is falsely accused of saying. There is the mockery of the Romans and the slander of the Jews. There is the silence, or denial, of his own. Human language is so degraded, even to the point of blasphemy. But, on the other hand, a sublime language appears, made manifest in the words of Jesus on the cross. These words create forgiveness and are entrusted to the Father. This is the praise of the new Temple. Jesus dies in prayer, so making his Temple a house of prayer.
“The veil of the Temple was torn down the middle.” According to the letter to the Hebrews, this sign expresses that we have free access to the Father through Jesus’ flesh (Hb 10:20). The Eucharist is the quarry by which the new Temple is built, and we Christians are crumbs of that bread, or stones of that building. The flesh of Christ is the veil torn in two, the tent that directs us into the Father’s presence, the fully sanctified Temple-body.
In our Eucharistic celebrations we sing the Hosanna together with the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) and the Benedictus (“Blessed is he who comes…”). We thus say Hosanna as we confess the holiness of the one who lives in the Temple. We also acclaim him who comes in the name of the Lord, Christ who has sanctified the new Temple and who opens for us the living and true way to praise the Creator (Hb 10:20) and to rebuild our body.
This is how we can understand the path of this Holy Week which now begins. We arrive from “Hosanna” to “Crucify him,” because Christ’s prophetic gesture is in between, in which He himself desires to cleanse the Temple. This is the order, with its four points: Hosanna, Cleanse my Father’s house, Crucify him, the Glory of the new Temple. The first and last of these points, Hosanna and Resurrection, correspond with one another. And likewise, the second and third: we crucify him, but Jesus himself takes the initiative in his Passion, and when men wound him, he uses this same wound to make us pure, to transform us, and he returns us greatest dignity.