After El Alamein, the first significant victory for the Allies in World War II, Churchill said: ‘This is not the beginning of the end. But it is the end of the beginning.’ He meant that from that point onwards, the tide would turn. I always think of that when we come to Palm Sunday. This is the event that marks the end of what Jesus has begun, his earthly ministry. Because of the adulation that greets his entry into Jerusalem, the authorities will be alarmed, and they will begin decisive action against him.
Jesus, who knew what was in anyone’s heart, understood this perfectly well. We get no hint of him being impressed by the acclaim of the crowds. We know know that from this point onwards everything will accelerate towards that moving last supper with his companions, leading to betrayal and execution. The whole life of Jesus is the great initiative of God reaching out to us. God does this through being among us as one of us. But the apparent defeat of God’s outreach to us in Christ will turn out to be no defeat at all. Only God could do this, namely, turn the events of defeat into the means of victory. Through the cross, the door to salvation will open for us. It is the door to God. It is the door to eternal life for ever for all who come to know God in Christ.
Palm Sunday always makes me think about the fickleness of popularity. One day Jesus is being hailed by the crowds. The next day they are against him. It seems to be like that with the popularity of the Church. There is always times when it seems to be fashionable to be a Catholic. Then, a short while later, we are back to a phase when people mock the Church. In truth it does not matter much either way. Now of course we have to learn in the Church from our failures, and we have to be alert what the Spirit says to us in the present moment, but this is not the same as courting popularity. What counts is our faithfulness to what Christ calls us to do and to be. It is the will of God that has called the Church into being. We are faithful when we help one another to grow in faith, to be those who cherish the sacraments, to be people who know the Bible and who seek to love God and neighbour. We are a supernatural society in the sense that it is God who makes us and shapes us. For this reason today’s popularity and tomorrow’s unpopularity should make no difference to us. To seek popularity is to have an opinion, and your opinions can change from one day to the next. To believe in God is to have your foundation deep in love, a love which never changes and which allows you to build for life – and for eternity.