Palms to Palms

A leave (frond) @ mom's portico

Daily readings:
Psalms 84; 150, Zechariah 9:9-12, 1 Timothy 6:12-16, Matthew 21:12-17

Palm Sunday readings:
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29, Matthew 21:1-11, Isaiah 50:4-9a, 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 26:14-27:66

For most Christians around the world, today is Palm Sunday. It’s the Sunday when we remember Jesus’s triumphal arrival in Jerusalem as he rode a donkey down a road covered in branches – traditionally palm fronds – placed there by a cheering crowd. We also remember how the same crowd, at the urging of their religious leaders, later turned on him and demanded his crucifixion.

For English speakers, “palms” figure into this story again, but this time as the traditional site where the nails were driven through Christ’s hands. Since the gospel texts were originally written in Hebrew or Greek, this similarity is a mere accident of language, but it highlights the mixture of highs and lows of Holy Week.

As Good Friday and the cross draw nearer, like Peter we reaffirm our commitment to Christ, but we must admit that, also like Peter (and the rest of the Twelve), we have and will inevitably fail him in some capacity. Like the crowds who greet Christ as a King, our community celebrates the victory we anticipate our Messiah will deliver. And also like the crowds, we must confront our failures to follow him when we let our leaders – religious, political, or cultural – persuade us the difficulty, danger, or sacrifice will be too great.

This is a week to remember strangers we have rebuffed, the poor and sick we have neglected, the tribalism we’ve used to justify withholding mercy, the times we have asked forgiveness in advance because we’d rather sin than suffer.

Holy Week exists because the triumph of the resurrection is at hand, but – painful though it might be to admit – it also exists because we are the people who crucified Christ. During the time between the cross and the empty tomb, the disciples were lost, left to grieve their failures and shattered hopes. Can we spend a week in that space where they were and contemplate what it means to be utterly lost? It’s a challenge to imagine, because while we know what comes next Sunday, they thought Christ was gone forever. Palms to palms, contemplating what it means to have lost Christ might deepen our appreciation when that Easter victory arrives.

Comfort: Christ is triumphant.

Challenge: Read the passion narrative from Matthew a few times this week, putting yourself in the place of a different character (Peter, Judas, Simon, Pilate, Mary, etc.) each time.

Prayer: God of mercy, thank you for freely bestowing the grace I can not earn. Amen.

Discussion: What character in the Passion story do you most identify with?

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