For the quarantine, my parents (who are devoutly Catholic) found out that their church has decided not to distribute palms on Palm Sunday. They heard this news with sadness, and appeared to be more disappointed than they have been with any piece of news surrounding the Coronavirus or the shelter-in-place edict. To them, these palms mean a lot.
They look like nothing: a single, dried out palm branch from a lowly palm tree. The only difference was that these palms had been blessed and given to the people by a priest. Things that were blessed by a priest were important in our house. My parents used to tuck their palms behind one of the many wooden and pewter crucifixes in our house. I grew up looking at dried out palm leaves behind crucifixes. I knew these would be replaced in a year by another one that looked just like it.
I used to joke that we were more Catholic than the Pope.
Palm Sunday kicks off the most sacred week of the year for Christians. We call it Holy Week. Like Easter, the feast day of Palm Sunday moves around, based on the Liturgical calendar and the Jewish feast of Passover, because those two events are related, like cousins.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus started his journey to the holy city of Jerusalem on a donkey colt, one that his disciples retrieved for him—an event that had been prophesied by the Old Testament prophet, Zechariah. A crowd of ordinary people went out to greet him, while he was still on the road approaching the gates of the city, waving fallen branches of palms and shouting in celebration for his triumphant entry. Some people lined the road with palm branches, like a carpet, laid down for a king.
There was so much noise and celebration, that some of the religious leaders in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!” Jesus only answered: “If they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.”
I always liked that Jesus said this. Even as a child, I knew this day, this event, was a huge, big deal. What I didn’t understand was that as soon as he saw Jerusalem, he wept. He talked to it, like a father and said things that I never fully understood as a child: "If you had only known today what would bring you peace! But now it is hidden, so you cannot see it. The time will come when enemy armies will build a wall to surround you and close you in on every side. They will level you to the ground and kill your people. One stone will not be left on top of another, because you didn't recognize the time when God came to help you."
Less than a week later, Jesus would leave Jerusalem, but this time, he’d be carrying a cross to a hill, just outside of the city. He’d be scarred, beaten and barely alive, wearing a crown of thorns around his head—mocking his alleged kingship.
We human beings are fickle people who have the power to crucify our heroes on any given day.
In the Catholic Church, Palm Sunday is celebrated by the blessing and distribution of palm branches, representing the palm branches the crowd scattered in front of Christ as he rode into Jerusalem. Some people use them as bookmarks in their Bibles or prayer books. Some of these palms are later surrendered to the church, ceremonially burned, and the ashes kept (and blessed) to make ashes for Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
On Ash Wednesday, a Catholic person will kneel down in front of a celebrant (Priest) and receive the ashes on their forehead. The priest will say: “Remember, thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.”
It’s a sobering reminder.
Because of the COVID19, most churches aren’t meeting until further notice, determined to break the cycle of infection to its people. Most of us agree that the human body isn’t above infection—even athletic youths are reminded of this on Ash Wednesday.
I no longer go to the Catholic Church, but I’ve always missed the celebration of the liturgical calendar and the deep traditions that bring its members together. It’s the calendar that remind us to number our days, to remember we’re mortal, to understand the limitations of our body as opposed to the greatness of God.
This year (like any other year) I don’t need palms to remind me of my faith in Christ, or remind me what he did for humankind this week so many years ago. My parents, however, treasure their palms, so for them, I grieve.
This virus will end, and this season will come to a halt as quickly as it began. Because we are human beings, we disagree when and how this will happen. In truth, the way and truth are found in a person for me, and today I remember Him.
Our Holy Week ends with us declaring “He is risen!” and whoever hears this, calls back, “He is risen, indeed!”
He is risen, indeed. Those beautiful words...