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Friends, how dark are the readings for Palm Sunday! We read through Luke’s Passion narrative, leaving out the good news of the Resurrection. To get to the bottom of this emphasis on suffering, to decipher its religious meaning, is to uncover the theological significance of this day.

Do you remember the first time that life really knocked you around? It might have been an extraordinary failure; it might have been the first time you confronted real violence or real hatred; it might have been a massive disappointment; it might have been the death of someone that you loved. This mess, this problem, bedevils all of us.

The biblical approach is clear: God sets about a rescue operation—the formation of a holy people Israel who would follow his commands, worship him aright, and thereby become a magnet to the world. They would teach and show the way out of the dilemma.

He would form a people ready to receive him; he would gradually effect a unity between divinity and humanity; and one day, a servant of Yahweh would appear, someone despised and reviled by men. And this mysterious figure would solve the problem by bearing away the sins of the world, by carrying them off through his suffering.