Each of the great liturgies of Holy Week has a distinctive element or action unique to it, giving us the direct experience of transformation in Christ. On Maundy Thursday there is the foot washing. On Good Friday, the Solemn Veneration of the Cross. At the Great Vigil of Easter, the lighting of the New Fire, the Exsultet, and the proclaiming of the Resurrection. Palm Sunday’s most distinctive moment is the blessing of palms and the procession into the church. These liturgical moments bind us all together and deliver the mystery.
By making us all be a part of the story, the Palm Sunday Procession draws us into the reality of the events of this day. In doing so, it underscores that we are all participants, not onlookers, in the Christian life. Holy Week returns to this theme again and again: There can be no mere observer this week, and we are not an audience. There are only participants—whether active or passive is up to us—in the life of discipleship. Holy Week makes this clear, and it starts today.
When Christ entered Jerusalem, he did so in great simplicity and humility. He did not mount a triumphal entry in the manner of the Roman occupiers. He rode a donkey, an animal of peace, rather than on a horse, the symbol of military confrontation. This he did to tell us that all his true followers will choose peace and not war, humility and not power.
Ever since Cain and Abel, we have been used to getting our way by force. Jesus reverses this. He overcomes through what appears to be weakness. But, do we do this in our work life, our family life, or our civic life? Do we expect others to be compliant to our desires while we ourselves try to ride in on horseback, perhaps even armed with a lance? Today we are to walk by his side and learn from him that it is not through force but through a persistent love of him that we will gain victory.
Some of those present responded to his entry by honoring him. They put greenery and their own cloaks on the ground in front of him…laying down the equivalent of a “red carpet” and giving him their form of “celebrity status.” When asked who this person was, they responded: "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee." This was the extent of their understanding of him: he was a prophet from the region north of them. Their response…branches and clothes in honor…was reasonable and appropriate for what they knew.
When we make our own palm procession today we are being asked much the same question: “Who is this?” Our response will be much deeper than theirs. We know he is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God who has come to free us from the power of sin and death. Yet, if our knowledge of Jesus is deeper, how we honor him must be deeper in understanding and effect, as well.
In place of branches that shrivel and fade, we are to honor Jesus with an enduring and loving service of others—even those that challenge us or differ from us. Instead of taking off our coats and putting them down before Christ, we must remove our pride and lay it down at his feet. This has been the purpose of our Lenten journey, and we will know we have grown in faithfulness by how quickly and eagerly we accept this task.
In doing this we not only honor Jesus as Lord, but share with him in his work. This is the way to enter the Holy City of God and the way to show we are united with Jesus and his Way of Love—not condemned with the World and its way of fear and death.
We are told by the Gospel that Christ’s entry into Jerusalem evoked turmoil in the city—the word can mean “convulsed” or “stirred” as by an earthquake or a wind much stronger than Friday’s storm. This shows us that Christ’s entry into any human situation, organization, or system will be challenging. The Gospel is incompatible with injustice, cruelty, or selfishness. Whether it be in the outside world, or in the inner life of the Church, Christ’s entry is always a testing of the truth and our commitment to it. We are never to tire of his entry. But how? How are we going to live out today’s liturgy?
St. Paul, in his Letter to the Philippians, says: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” He then tells us that to be Christ-minded means emptying ourselves of pride, and becoming servants, not masters. Ultimately, we must join Christ in dying to the World so that we may rise with him. This is a profound mystery into which we have been baptized, and it acquired only from direct contact with Christ in Sacrament, Scripture, and Service.
This week we have begun the most intentional and focused time in the Church Year of letting Christ’s mind come into ours. If we join in the liturgies of Holy Week truly and with our whole selves as participants…not merely curious onlookers…we will acquire the mindset needed to be Christians all the year, all our lives, and in all situations.
Today’s collect prays: “Grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection.” In our procession, we have begun our annual liturgical walk in the way of his suffering. If we enter into this worship unreservedly, calling upon God to open our minds to the truth of our lives and how truly we reflect the Gospel way of life, we will be given grace to come to the Feast of the Resurrection as changed people. We will more eagerly walk the way of Christ because his resurrection has already begun in us. Amen.