PALM SUNDAY MARKS THE BEGINNING OF HOLY WEEK
Why Palm Branches?
In the ancient Middle East kings could enter a city in two ways. Horses were used for war, so if the king road on a horse, it usually meant trouble. If they came in peace, they would ride a donkey, a humble act. Jesus was sending two clear messages to the people of Jerusalem. The first was that he is a king, the second message is that his intentions were peaceful. The point was not lost on the religious leaders.
Jesus came down the Mount of Olives into the Kedron valley, to the east of the temple. It is a very steep descent. The road was a dirt path. The spring rains made the passage slippery. The people hailing Jesus placed branches and clothing on the road so that the footing was safe. John is the only gospel that mentions that the branches were from palm trees. Matthew and Mark only refer to “branches”. Luke leaves out the branches entirely and simply says that the people put their clothes on the road.
In medieval Europe, people used willow and other branches to celebrate this day, rather than palms which were rare. Some people braid three or more strips of palm to make crosses or crowns of thorns. Next year we will burn the palms to make ashes for Ash Wednesday.
One week from today is Easter Sunday! We will celebrate the triumph of Jesus over the final enemy … death! It is only correct and just that if we wish to join in the victory, then we should enter into the struggle which precedes it. During Lent, we have been given the opportunity to reflect upon the quality of our lives in the face of the Lenten Invitation: Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. Today, as we receive our Blessed Palm and give thanks and praise to God, we are given the chance to enter into the spirit of Holy Week. We can take this opportunity to walk with Jesus through this week in all its moods and complexities, to finally rejoice in the Father’s glory when ‘life’ was re breathed into Jesus His Son: that new life which is offered to everyone.
When we speak about Jesus in the Mass, for example, we use the past tense. “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life” … “By your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free”. In other words, Jesus has already completed his part of the formula for salvation; now the rest is up to us. Of course, we are not alone in this venture; the Holy Spirit is alive within God’s household. This week is a sacred time; it’s up to us whether we wish to enter deeply into the spirit of it or not. The secular world is well and truly geared up for huge Easter Egg sales and massive attendances at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney, let alone getaway holidays. Yesterday, I heard a man ask one of the staff at Baker’s Delight that they should bake Hot Cross Buns all year around, because it reminds him of Easter!!!! The beginning and end of these secular activities are $$$$ … but for us, the end of this week is New Life! When we enter into the Church’s Liturgy at the Easter Triduum … Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil/Sunday, this newness of life and attentiveness to God’s Mission for us, can be nourished and sustained in us. If we take ‘time out’ as family and individuals to make this journey, the results will be far more lasting for us than from a Chocolate Easter Bunny, or a giant Easter Egg filled with Mars Bars!
There is a time and place for celebration, but it becomes all the more worthwhile when it has been earned through solid attentiveness to Jesus, who invites us to be truly servants of each other; to be responsive to His constant invitation to be with Him in prayer; to walk the Way of the Cross; and to allow the Cross to speak to our hearts. By entering into this mystery, we can rejoice in our God who loves us into life, and gives us the responsibility through our Baptism, to share it with others.
Now is the time to plan our week! Now is decision time! There will be many inviting alternatives which could take up our time and promise us rewards. But this is the week of all weeks in which we as a community can be renewed through prayerfully and seriously walking the road to Calvary together … and then into the light of Resurrection.
Our reward? A greater alertness to the suffering Christ in His people today, and the strength and quality to be ‘Easter People’ in a world where His Word is still to be proclaimed and heard.
May this week be a source of blessing for all of us. God Bless you all and your families and may we never forget each other in Prayer. Fr Kevin Walsh
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