Today is one of the most prominent days in the Christian calendar. I think we remember it because it is one of those days when, from our youngest days, we got something at church: a palm to display somewhere in our homes. That palm may be the way to enter prayerfully into this profound day's celebration.
People laid palms before Jesus as he entered into Jerusalem. The palm was their way to acclaim a man who roused their hopes. We in our culture do not have people riding into town on donkeys but we have plenty of experiences that touch on that palm celebration back then. A presidential candidate celebrates with his cheering followers on the night of his or her nomination or election; a basketball team returns triumphant from the Final Four to a wild homecoming among the school's students and backers; an artist receives a standing ovation for a starring role in an oscar-winning film. "Yes!" we shout and raise our arms: that is today's palm.
Jesus knew all too well not only that he deserved a triumphal celebration but also that the victory would be won at a frightening price. In a dramatic flash of realism so different from the first Palm Sunday, the church today turns immediately from celebration of a victory to contemplating the price of that victory. So the Catholic Church calls this day both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday, and its worship is a surprising and wonderful fusion of the glory and the pain.
The challenge for me as I enter Holy Week is not to forget either of those two elements, the glory or the pain. The ugly events we are about to recall and celebrate are not only a terrible miscarriage of human justice. They are also the triumph of a God who gave and gives God's very self into our hands. As Jesus approached these frightening events, his biggest concern was that his followers perceive their meaning. He wanted them to see that his suffering was not the killing of all that had given them hope. It was rather his courageous entry into and victory over all that could take away their hope.
We will labor with Jesus this week--recalling his suffering and living ours. Let's look each day to our palm to say both "Yes" and "Thank you!"
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