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Palm Sunday
during the coronavirus pandemic
April 5, 2020

Click here to watch the video of Father Ryan's homily


        On this Palm Sunday of the fateful year, 2020, I still have ringing in my ears the sounds of the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica as they rang out at the end of that incredibly moving service that Pope Francis presided over a week or so ago. At first, the joyous sound of those bells seemed oddly out of place to me - considering the world’s great sadness at this time - but then I heard them as a bold proclamation of Christian hope, an affirmation of the victory of Christ over death.

        And I also heard them as another way of shouting aloud the Hosannas proclaimed by the crowds on the first Palm Sunday as Jesus humbly rode through their midst. The word Hosanna means “God saves, God rescues.” That’s what those bells said, and isn’t that exactly what we are saying in our celebration today!

        But there was another sound that asserted itself into the joyous peal of those bells: it was the unmistakable sound of the siren of an emergency vehicle. The sirens in Europe sound quite different from ours: their sound always takes me to the films and newsreels of Second World War Europe. It’s kind of terrifying sound, really, and this time when I heard it I couldn’t help but think about the current war we find ourselves in. Even as the bells boldly proclaimed that Christ lives and that we, too, shall live, the siren was a painful reminder of all those who, at this perilous moment, are sick and dying – a reminder, too, of the thousands who have died. Hope and sadness right alongside each other. Such conflicting emotions, such stark contrasts! Not a bad lead-in to Holy Week because Holy Week is a week filled with stark contrasts.

        Take today, Palm Sunday. It begins in triumph, but triumph proves very transitory as the loud hosannas from the crowds fade into the anxious, whispered plotting of a disgruntled apostle and some fearful religious authorities as they conspire against Jesus. All of this plays out in today’s liturgy: the joy-filled gospel of Palm Sunday was soon overshadowed by the sobering proclamation of the Gospel of the Passion. These sorts of contrasts are the story of Holy Week.

        Holy Thursday has its share of contrasts. The warmth and intimacy of a Supper shared by friends will quickly turn into gut-wrenching agony in the loneliness of a garden where betrayal by a trusted friend will eclipse all feelings of warmth and intimacy, leaving them a distant memory.

        And Good Friday?  Even this most desolate of days will have its contrasts. The mindless cruelty of the Passion will be redeemed by selfless, self-emptying love that endures - no embraces - the cross.  Hands nailed to the cross will become hands that bless.

        Holy Saturday will be a day of subdued, sober reflection, a day of recovery. But quietly running underneath will be steady currents of anticipation and hope.

        And Easter?  Normally Easter is without contrasts; normally Easter is pure, unallowed joy and unbounded hope.  This year, however, with our inability to gather together in the Cathedral as a community of faith and love, our Easter joy will, to say the least, be subdued, and we will have to dig deep to find hope or, put it this way: our hope will require a deeper act of faith. But maybe there will be a blessing in that. Maybe our physical distance from one another will strengthen our bonds of love in new ways, and maybe our inability to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist will deepen our hunger for the day when we can once again join the great procession to the Table of the Lord to feast on the Bread of Life!

        Dear friends in Christ, I hope this tiny preview of what awaits us during the liturgies of this Holy Week – all of which we will be livestreaming from the Cathedral (I can’t resist the little commercial!) – I hope this tiny preview will whet your appetite for what lies ahead.  We may be separated from each other for a while but we are not far from each other.  We are one in the Body of Christ, one in hope, one in love!

        Together, then, let us move forward into the Mystery, into the amazing grace of this Holy Week. Let us follow in the footsteps Jesus whose passion, death, and resurrection can have a meaning for us this year that they never have had before.

        I pray that it will be so!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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Seattle, Washington  98104
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