As I arrived for our reflection this week, there sat the very beautiful smiling faces of my sisters in Christ, among a sea of palms. The parish where we meet had announced the weekend before that they would be having a gathering where they would weave the palms in preparation for Palm Sunday, where the palms would be used to adorn the church for the arrival of Holy Week. We were blessed to have the meeting room where they were storing the amazing finished products. (See a picture I took of one below).
The Sunday before Easter is always celebrated with everyone receiving a palm leaf and holding it as one gospel reading about Jesus’ arrival to Jerusalem is read with a procession into the church. The main gospel reading is done later with everyone playing a particular part, like a movie script, where the presiding priest reads the part of Jesus, and we, the parishioners play “C“, which stands for “CROWD”. Ever since I can remember as a little girl, I hated that “C”. I used to whisper to my mom, “I DONT WANT TO BE C!” I hated it because it was the time of year where we had to yell “CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM!” and my stomach would turn. Now that I am older, and am going into decades worth of reading this line, it has a new meaning for me. Part of that has to do with one of the lights the Holy Spirit gave us this week during our Encounter with Christ.
Matthew 21:1-11 (the opening reading for the procession; we use the New American Bible Revised Edition)
“The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them. 7 They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them.”
- Struck by the obedience of the apostles to listen to Jesus and do exactly what he told them to do (another example being of preparing the room for the Passover meal), I wonder how well I listen to what Jesus is asking of me, no matter how strange it seems or how it doesn’t make sense to me at the time. How quickly am I responding to him and trusting that he will provide everything I need for me as I do what he asks of me?” The apostles act quickly in this instance and they do just what he asks. (How strange it must have seem to ask them to go fetch a donkey?)
8 The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. 9 The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord;
hosanna in the highest.”
10 And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds replied, “This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
- Trying to imagine the scene as Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, the people throwing down their cloaks and waiving their branches, with great faith and anticipation of what is occurring. They are caught up and excited by the momentum; not even maybe really understanding what is happening. How is my heart anticipating this Holy Week? Am I throwing down branches (making sacrifices and fasting for the offering) and throwing down my “cloak” (my best spiritual effort), ready and excited for whatever it is that God is doing in my soul and his church? My heart should be Jerusalem, curious, anxious to understand, expectant of something great and knowing by faith that my soul is “shaken” as the city of Jerusalem by the Son of God’s arrival.
- In this same passage, what is happening among the people in their hearts? At one moment anticipating and excited, and along side of that, questioning and doubting. How much do I want to believe in the amazing thing God is doing before me? Yet how weak I am that my doubts get in the way? How often I am conflicted and trying to overcome the lack of faith I can have.”
- Do you wonder if any of these people throwing down their cloaks and branches at this “prophet” on a donkey were the same ones standing before the Sanhedrin shouting “CRUCIFY HIM!” Perhaps they were swept away with the moment of Jesus entering the “shaking” city of Jerusalem, and then swept away with the crowd as they choose who to release and who to crucify a few days later? After all, even some of his devoted apostles betray him, deny him, and some run away when the time comes for his passion and death.
This conflicted feeling we get in our everyday experiences in the world, where we don’t always feel God’s presence, is where the “C” exists for all of us. We become the “C” or “The Crowd” when we are conflicted in our faith. How many times am I so faithful and trusting one moment when things go my way, and then discomfort hits my life and I get upset and waiver if God is there listening to me at all? How could God who loves me let me be uncomfortable? Maybe because He knows that it is only then that I rely fully on Him, and become the version of myself that is rooted in His strength, and not my own.
We all remarked on the fact that meditating on this scene while sitting among the woven palm branches, the likes of which none of us have ever seen, was like really being in the scene. We even joked that perhaps every time we go to Encounter Christ in the gospel together, we should bring props! Mostly, the intricacy and care with which these palms were woven by such skilled hands, all in preparation for Our Lord’s Holy week, truly humbled and inspired us.
I pray your heart is ready to enter Jerusalem this week. I pray we all remember the anticipation and culmination of God’s amazing and unfathomable plan to become man, and lay down His life for all sinners, so that true and pure love would make a way in this world. In the conflicted and weak human heart, there is still a way to victory–the way of the cross– where we too die to our sins, and become anew; not of our own fickle strength, but by Christ, with whom all things are possible.