BY SR. LAURETTA LEIPZIG
“Palm Sunday can elicit all kinds of responses, depending on our situation. Perhaps in years past we’ve been so preoccupied with many seemingly pressing family matters that we’ve found it hard to put ourselves in the scene and imagine how we would have responded had we been in Jerusalem, witnessing firsthand the events taking place on Palm Sunday over 2000 years ago.”
These are words from a book by Kelly M. Wahlquist. Further in her writing she reminds us that as we enter the Scriptures describing that first Palm Sunday we see Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a colt, everyone stopping what he or she was doing to catch a glimpse of him. “Who is this Jesus?” was the question everyone was asking. They had heard of his miracles. They were watching him for many weeks. Now, Jerusalem was abuzz with preparations for Passover and Jews from everywhere came to the festival and so, “a great crowd who had come to the feast” gathered palm branches and “went out to meet Jesus.” They began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen and heard. Truly, the entire city was stirred by this explosion of praise and joy as Jesus entered Jerusalem. However, as we ponder that scene, we see clashing images in the Palm Sunday experience: joyful shouts, palms waving and then the Passion. First, there’s a triumphal procession of the King, only to be followed by a humiliating death of that same King on a cross. Wahlquist writes: “Triumph joins with death…in an ironic way. The crucifixion vaulted Jesus to his throne.” Today, the palms we wave at Mass are later burned and blessed for use the next Ash Wednesday. This clearly tells us that even as we rejoice in Jesus’ triumphal coming, we know that his death for our sins will soon follow.
The cry of the bystanders, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord,” is also our acclamation on this day. As we hold our palms high, it is easy to mentally unite with the throngs who lined that road into Jerusalem and shouted “Hosanna!’ We imagine that, swept up in the excitement, it would have been easy to believe. But it’s 2021 and the challenge of Palm Sunday asks: Are we willing to receive a king who comes “in ashes.” Can we receive a king who looks not like a king at all, but like a piece of broken bread, or a person who is poor, sick, or needy? Who is this Jesus, the King, for us? How do we receive him? Let us rejoice that we are so blessed to know that the King of kings is present among us today and that we can welcome and serve our King by continuing his work on earth.