Growing up, I had mixed feelings about the celebration of Palm Sunday. On one hand, it meant that the end of Lent was approaching and I could again indulge in what I had given up; on the other, it meant the Passion play and a long Mass.
Now, I look forward to the celebration of Palm Sunday. It marks the start of Holy Week, which includes my favorite time of the liturgical season: the Easter Triduum.
But, what exactly are we celebrating? Last year, a friend came to visit after my attendance at Palm Sunday Mass. We brought home a palm for our house and had lain it on the dining room table. Of course, it raised questions.
As I explained the reenactment of Jesus’s triumphant return into Jerusalem on a donkey, she seemed intrigued. After all, her topic of study is Victorian drama and melodrama. As I continued into the remainder of Holy Week and the memory of Jesus’ suffering and death prior to the celebration of his resurrection, she seemed genuinely confused. All of the ups and downs seemed like a bumpy ride.
And so it is. I remember being confused by the Holy Week commemorations and the crowd responses. It’s no coincidence that during Palm Sunday Mass and the Good Friday liturgy, we, the faithful, participate in the reading of the Gospel. We participate in condemning Jesus to death.
Those same crowds had once welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, throwing their clothes and palm branches in front of his donkey as a sign of homage, just as the wise men had paid homage at his birth. Of course, it was a bumpy ride.
But is it any different today? As we celebrate Palm Sunday, recalling the initial welcome that Jesus received, do we find similarities in our lives? The crowd’s response in the Passion play is downright chilling.
As a child, I found the process arduous and repetitive: Why must we do this year after year? But now, I see the value.
“Crucify him, crucify him.” How often have we welcomed Jesus into our own lives, only to shut him out by our words and actions? How often do we attend Mass and dutifully celebrate the sacrament of the Eucharist, only to deny Christ to the world around us by hiding our faith?
We’ve all fallen victim to these behaviors. We turn to Jesus in our times of trial and tribulation, but how do we thank him?
I remember my mom reminding me to always provide thanks. When we would pray the St. Jude novena and our prayers would be answered, part of the thanks would involve distributing the novena cards at Mass – spreading the word. She’d have us leave the cards for others to pick up in the back of church and pray.
Now, after a prayer has been answered, I find myself repeating small words of thanksgiving: “Thank you for watching over me and providing for me.” That’s all that’s needed.
At the start of Holy Week, we begin to recall our Savior’s suffering, death, and resurrection. In doing so, we are reminded of our complicity in the action of condemnation. But there’s a silver lining: Jesus’s crucifixion is our salvation. Through death, we are given life.