We are now nearing the end of our Lenten journey, beginning the path of Holy Week. We find ourselves on this Palm Sunday in that uncomfortable in-between, ready to celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, eager to wave our palms and shout “Hosanna!” After all, it has been a long Lent, especially for those of us in the northern parts of the world where these forty days are generally snow-covered and bitterly cold. We have fasted and abstained, we have prayed, and we have walked the stations. We’re ready.
The richness of Palm Sunday is found in the contrasts experienced in the liturgy. We begin with Matthew’s retelling of the arrival of Jesus and his friends to an area just outside of the holy city. They have travelled to Jerusalem from Galilee, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, casting out demons, and countering the arguments of the hypocritical religious elite. Anyone who has made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land knows that the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem doesn’t take long. Yet, Galilee was far from Jerusalem in many ways. Jerusalem was a place of religious and civic power, Galilee was a town on the margins, made up of marginalized people. Jesus and his disciples walked from the margins of Galilee to the streets of Jerusalem, joining other pilgrims who had made the same trek, and continue to today.
Our liturgy moves us from that triumphant entry with palms waving and pilgrims dancing to the words of Isaiah setting the stage for what is about to come, of a prophet who prepares to be put to shame. We then hear the haunting, yet comforting text from Paul, the recounting of Jesus’ emptying himself completely, not only taking the form of one of us, but taking the form of the marginalized, the weak, the outcast. And then we turn to Matthew’s account of Jesus’ last days, beginning with the betrayal of Judas, and continuing on to the abandonment of Jesus by Peter’s denial and the rest of the disciples who refused to stay up and pray. We walk with all of them, from the cool early morning in the garden, to the scorching journey through the streets, to the trial, to the angry mobs shouting “Crucify him!,” to the embarrassing mocking, to Golgotha’s end.
Palm Sunday provides a look ahead, a glimpse at what will come as we progress through the journey of Holy Week, into the days of the Paschal Triduum.
However, the journey doesn’t begin today. It began long ago, in our baptism, and when we were confirmed by the power of the Holy Spirit. The journey continues.
The good news is that we do not walk alone, but with each other, in the midst of community, and joining together with Christians throughout the world. We walk the path that our ancestors walked and that Jesus himself trod. Yet we do not simply recreate historical events, we share in them.
We do not only remember, we believe, we see, we act.
That is what this moment, this journey of Holy Week, is all about for us. As we recall Jesus’ passage from death to new life, we embrace our own.
Jesus and his followers walked a different path than was conventional—they set out not to follow rules, but to love. They rejected labels and worked through divisions seeking common ground, finding solutions that healed the sick, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and housed the homeless. Jesus gave all that he had to such a life, and in the end, it cost him his.
We find ourselves at a moment where individualism is viewed as more important than community, where we judge others for what they believe, who they love and interact with, and what they do for a living. We huddle in ideological corners, convinced that all of us in our corner have the right answers. We’re so sure that we’re right, we’ve forgotten what the questions are.
Today, as we begin this Holy Week, the questions Jesus asks of us are quite simple. Are we ready to walk the path that lies ahead, to love without ceasing, to set aside divisions and seek unity, to empty ourselves, bring our pain and our grief and our fear to the cross? And Jesus asks us if we see the pain that our neighbor brings to that same cross.
Originally published in “Loose-leaf Lectionary for Mass,” Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Copyright 2020. For subscription information, visit: https://litpress.org/loose-leaf-lectionary/index