HOLY WEEK REFLECTIONS – PALM SUNDAY

A reflection by Ellen Teague – Columban JPIC Media Desk

On a normal Palm Sunday, Christian communities hold Palm Sunday processions, waving palm crosses and listening to the year’s longest Gospel! Internationally, families in Jerusalem’s Christian quarter parade down the Mount of Olives carrying palm branches, Nigerian priests ride a real donkey into church, and communities in the Dominican Republic dress up as characters in the passion narrative, with ‘Roman’ soldiers marching down streets!

Not this year. Because of coronavirus we will celebrate Mass online and experience “spiritual communion”. Yet, our current restrictions and fears mean that Palm Sunday has a particular relevance this year.

The joyful entry of Jesus into Jerusalem soon turns bleak, and we hear the details in today’s Gospel reading of the Passion. Good times quickly turn into bad times. The story grips us. And it encompasses the best and worst of human nature. Do we recognise elements of ourselves in the cheering crowd, yelling for a messiah and then turning against him? Can we empathise with the plight of Judas who tries to undo a terrible mistake but finds that it is too late? Shall we blame the disciples for choosing sleep over supporting Jesus? Elements of the story resonate with us, for what they reflect about human nature.

And yet, it was this very humanity that Jesus embraced. Jesus was betrayed by practically everybody, but he showed his faith in humanity and in all God’s creation – even Earth quaked when he died. That he could do this is the foundation of our ultimate hope. Where is Jesus today?  Jesus is there with the parents in poverty-stricken shanty towns who cannot isolate to protect their children from the coronavirus. He is with the families separated from elderly or sick loved ones. The crucified Christ is with the crucified peoples. And the compassionate Christ is with those bringers of hope who continue to deliver health care, run food banks, deliver prescriptions and make regular phone calls to elderly people who fear being abandoned.

When we wave our crosses of palms – albeit last year’s – we recognise the cross mirrored in us, the universal family of the people of God. The Jesus of the New Testament calls us to costly discipleship, taking up the crosses of all who suffer; particularly vulnerable people. In Ethiopia, decorated crosses are made out of beaten silver, but they have an unusual feature – a hinge. This hinge suggests that the cross is a door to spiritual reality. As humans we grow in likeness to God through our love, service and justice. Through the power of sacrificial love and forgiveness, we bear the beams of God’s embracing love.

Numerous people begged Jesus not to go to Jerusalem, to be reasonable and think of his own safety. But go he did. We think today of doctors and nurses, carers, teachers, shop workers, cleaners and others who have put aside their safety to serve others in need and maintain a decent society at this time. Let us thank them and take the opportunity offered this Easter to reflect on our own mission to follow Jesus in this world.

Palm Sunday begins the great cycle of Holy Week and Easter. It reminds us that our current crisis can either be an end or a new beginning. It helps us learn anew that our destinies are inextricably intertwined and that it is precisely this reality that calls us into being, that calls us out of darkness and into light.