Years ago, my parents took us to visit the Medical Missions Sisters’ convent in Philadelphia on Palm Sunday. We were not Catholic, and this was unlike any church service I had ever been to. The Sisters gave us each a palm branch (a whole branch!) and my brothers and I joined the procession of Christ’s triumphal entry. We waved our branches and cheered and sang “Hosanna!” to music from a guitar. I remember thinking, if only church could always be like this!
Maybe that’s why I feel the contrast so keenly now. I get excited for Palm Sunday, feel festive as I head for church. That long-ago day plays in my mind like a movie and I find myself adjusting my expectations down to the Simple Entrance. There’s barely enough time to lift our palms before we’re deep into the telling of the Passion. “Why do they do that?” I used to ask my husband, after I converted. “This is Palm Sunday! Don’t you celebrate?”
Yes, of course we do, and will; but first we need to see what constitutes Christ’s triumph. To rephrase the old saying, Palm Sunday comes in like a palm branch, out like a cross. We lift our branches high to welcome the coming king, then that king is lifted on the cross from which God launches him to glory. It is not we who make him king. Not we, whose idea of kingship is as bendable and fading as a palm frond.
Sitting in church today, reciting my part with the crowd, I see that’s a good thing. “Crucify him!” we shout. My palm frond sits in my lap, discarded and limp. “Crucify him!” we repeat, even louder. My God, my God – why have we forsaken you?
Palm Sunday is the door through which we enter Holy Week. Let’s not miss its message. This is our king, high and lifted up. This is the mystery at the heart of our salvation: the son of God did not come like an earthly king to lord it over us. He came humbly, taking death (all death, OUR death) on himself to the grave. It is this – not clever arguments or force – that brings victory over all the evil in the world. It is this – not wealth or the right friends or education or power – that saves us from the force of evil in our lives.
Palm Sunday comes in like a palm branch, out like a cross. Which is it to be? Which one do I carry today?
©2018 Sarah Christmyer
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Lift High the Cross
R: Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim
till all the world adore his sacred name.
1. Come, Christians, follow where the Master trod,
our King victorious, Christ the Son of God.
2. Led on their way by this triumphant sign,
the hosts of God in conquering ranks combine.
3. Each newborn servant of the Crucified
bears on the brow the seal of him who died.
4. O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree,
your death has brought us life eternally.
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Spend intentional time in the Word this Holy Week
Another practice that is fitting for Holy Week is to pray the Penitential Psalms. Read more and download free instructions here or use my prayer journal, “Create in Me a Clean Heart: Ten Minutes a Day in the Penitential Psalms” (available in paperback or on Kindle from Amazon.com).