Palms – Fr Jett Villarin, SJ

Mark 11:1-10, Palm Sunday

We begin Holy Week with yet another lockdown. And so this Palm Sunday is a bit dissonant. The high notes of our hosannas are hesitant. We wave palms in tentative jubilation. We are supposed to usher Jesus like a celebrity, attaching ourselves to him and his power. We sing, hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Even as we are in pain, we accord him high honors, the kind we give to victorious warriors. We throw our coats on his path to clear the way of the blessed One, and we join in triumphant procession.

In this procession, we believe him to be the one who would defeat our enemies, the one who comes in the name of God. We raise our palm branches to him who comes to deliver us from evil. We believe him. We trust his power. Whatever doubts that linger, we try to sweep away with our palaspas.

While we wave our palm branches, we forget or we do not mind some incongruous details: he rides to town not in some mighty chariot; the king of glory comes not attired in shining armor, wearing no jeweled crown; he marches on without armies by his side. Surely these subtle, discordant details should have given us pause.

But we would not be dissuaded. Here comes our king of glory. Never mind that he comes without crown and armor. Back then, and perhaps until now, we believe only what we want to believe. We see only what we want to see.

We begin Holy Week the way we begin many things in our lives, with optimism and hope and so much promise. We begin Holy Week, waving palm branches to him who comes in glory and power.

Within the week, that same power is taken from him by those who would be disenchanted with him. In a few days, life will be taken from him by those who would betray and abandon him, and by those in power who would be threatened by his power. He is denounced as delusional and blatantly blasphemous. How dare he trash the market by the temple. How dare he defy and subvert the sabbath. How dare he offer mercy as if mercy were his to give. How dare he say and do all this, as if he were the anointed one of God.

And so there, like those who carry stones to stone the sinner, we let the palms of Sunday fall to the ground before it is even Thursday.

By Thursday evening, not even an intimate and new Passover meal with his friends can stave off the gathering sadness of betrayal and death. We know that the agony in the garden takes all night and all of him. In the garden, we are asleep with sorrow, and he is alone to storm heaven with prayers for God to please take the cup of suffering away from him.

And all too soon, it is Friday. We seek goodness on this day but there is only condemnation and confusion and blood to the very end. We run for our lives, scared and scattered like sheep that have been left by their shepherd.

We are left to endure the darkness of Good Friday the way we endure many things that hardly make sense in this valley of tears. We are left with much questioning and tears and unsettling inside.

The next day is muted with sorrow. All of Saturday, before an empty cross, we only have his last words to echo in our lives. Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? His words on Friday are our words to this day. My God, my God, why have you forsaken us? We had expected Elijah then to come down on his chariot to save him. My God, my God, why did you not spare your beloved Son the disgrace of dying our death?

In the early hours of Easter morning, we are awakened by news from terrified women. We rush to the tomb to find it empty. We see the burial cloths on the stone and the linen alone is enough for us to believe. On this new Sunday, we come to see more than just an empty tomb and our hearts quicken like palms waving in the wind. Now we see what the centurion saw on Calvary. “Truly, this man was the Son of God.”

The holiness of this week is crowned with Love risen and quietly triumphant. We end Holy Week on the glorious notes of our alleluias and humbled hosannas, gratefully surprised that our shepherd and king should come back to us even as we had all gone astray. We end Holy Week the way we are transformed by what we’ve had to bear in love. We emerge with renewed courage, a deeper faith, and a stronger hope in who we are as beloved of God.

Despite all the sorrows we’ve had to endure in this pandemic, we shall still enter this holy time, trusting to see the love of God unfold before us even in this time of fear and uncertainty.

By his passion, death, and resurrection, he has redeemed the world. Let us begin these holy days believing it so. In truth, there is nothing dissonant in waving palms today to welcome his entry into our lives. Only by his self-emptying love is new life ever given. Only through such a love are we created anew in the image and likeness of Jesus, the beloved Son, the anointed one of God.

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