Passion Sunday/Palm Sunday Reflection
“And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the Twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise.” // Mark 10:32-34
We’ve arrived at the beginning of the most Holy Week on the Catholic calendar. Palm Sunday. Passion Sunday. Today I want to share a story about my first Passion Sunday in the Catholic Church. I’d been preparing for a year with the RCIA at St. Patrick’s Basilica in Montreal, Quebec. During weekly Wednesday evening gatherings our group uncovered the gifts of the Church together. We questioned, we prayed, we dug deep as a group of seekers. So much of the journey of RCIA is one of sitting on the outside of something beautiful and not being allowed in. You are a desperate spectator. At least, that’s how it felt to me. By nature, some who want to tread the path to conversion have already experienced the beginning of that conversion, and by their very presence in the program, are clearly yearning for full communion with the Church. But there is so much we didn’t yet ‘know’ about the Faith.
So when I arrived at the Palm Sunday liturgy I genuinely thought “Okay- I’ve got this! I know what Palm Sunday is all about! Jesus is arriving in Jerusalem, in glory, to crowds waving Palms and declaring Him King!”. On my journey to Mass that day I had visions of the little kids, in my Protestant church growing up, singing ‘All Glory, Laud and Honor’ and waving Palm branches happily. After church they’d all gather in the social hall for cookies and Tang (is that illegal for kids now?) and make palm crosses and share dreams about what the Easter Bunny was going to bring them this year. The air was effervescent. Jesus was still king, Easter was right around the corner.
Needless to say, you can be a cradle Catholic and still feel the drastic shift that took place in my heart that Passion Sunday morning at St. Patrick’s. The joy began the liturgy, no question! A Gospel reading began the ritual. It was something different from the everyday rhythm. Palms were waving. They were blessed with Holy Water. The majesty of it was palpable. The Readings declared Jesus: Name Above Every Name.
And then came the Gospel. I kept waiting for them to stop. I kept thinking they’d gone too far?! We aren’t supposed to be reading this part yet! When we all kneeled for that moment of silence after Jesus gives up His life, I wept. I was caught off guard. I wasn’t prepared.
I continue to feel that same unpreparedness every Holy Week. It hasn’t changed. Every Passion Sunday I am reminded of how inadequate my Lent has been. I am reminded that I am not ready to see Jesus (whom I love more than anything) have to give His life the way He does for me, year after year, day after day, moment after moment.
I am feeling that particularly acutely today. In years past I’ve been able to busy myself with the preparation for the Holy Week liturgies. Not this year. This year, I am stripped to just me and Jesus. This year I can’t see what lies ahead of for the Church, for our world. I do know something has shifted, and we’re never going to be the same. Like the Passion Sunday liturgy, this time of isolation has been rich with so much stateliness, simultaneously so much intimate beauty, so many gifts of self, and yet brimming with uncertainty and pain. Like Passion Sunday, today is confusing, it’s contradictory, it’s complicated.
So often we wish God would show us the road that lies ahead. We pray for clarity; and we beg for answers. But even when God spells out clearly what is coming; like He does so unequivocally in Mark’s Gospel, like the disciples, we sometimes still can’t understand. Our humanity makes our understanding flawed and limited. We can not see the fullness of what God is doing.
Patiently He has prepared us, over and over, for this moment. He has taught us, every Holy Week about the total gift of self that is the Christian Life. He has prepared us with every Holy Week past, for the cross. We know the calming presence of peace in fear and the outpouring of mercy in despair as a result of this week. He has prepared us for the tomb.
Year after year He too has opened our eyes to the promise of resurrection.
So as we begin our journey together as a Church, let’s look at scripture that reveals to us everything we need to know; let’s look to each other, the Body of Christ, as we minister to one another through uncharted waters and dare to be the Church in new ways; and let’s look to Jesus, who has prepared us, and is preparing us for new life. It is just around the corner.