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As a child I quietly harboured an uneasy dislike for Palm Sunday.

The processions, the palm waving, the triumphant chorus: “Blessed is He who comes in the Lord’s own name. Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!” Triumphalism bothered me then, and it bothers me now. Had people forgotten what came after this brief moment of collective credulity? Could they not see the ominous broiling thunderclouds on the horizon? How could we celebrate without tears?

Jesus didn’t celebrate without tears. His royal entry into Jerusalem was staged from Bethany, the home of Lazarus. If you recall the last chapter of the PilgrimYear: Lent collection, you’ll remember that Lazarus means “the Lord helps,” and Bethany means “the house of misery.” Together these phrases suggest the kingdom of Christ would be a great reversal of earthly kings and kingdoms known for feasting on the misery of others. There is evidence throughout Jesus’ ministry of a profound compassion for the marginalized and downtrodden, as well as an absolute rejection of power as it would have been understood and wielded in His day, and often in ours.

And so, Luke’s Gospel reports that Jesus, in the midst of the revelry, suddenly burst into the tears that clearly lay just below the surface of His unlikely triumph. “If only you knew what makes for peace,” He moans, “…but you can’t see it” ( Luke 19:41-42). Jesus, knowing the kingdom of peace will be resisted with ferocious violence, weeps while the multitudes dance. This somber declaration certainly influences the church tradition of keeping the fronds of Palm Sunday, to burn and then draw the ashes in a cross on the foreheads of the faithful come the following Ash Wednesday. For we still haven’t understood what makes for peace. We can’t see it.

There are other troubling things to consider on this day. It seems the whole descent from the Mount of Olives was a staged provocation to Jesus’ enemies, deliberately orchestrated to draw the ire of the religious authorities and raise the eyebrows of the Roman Empire. Consider a prophecy that would have been well known to Jesus and all observant Jews:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem!
Look, your King is coming to you;
He is righteous and victorious,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9

Jesus was well aware of Zechariah’s prophecy, as all Jews hoping for the arrival of the coming Messiah would have been. For those unfamiliar with the Hebrew prophecy, it was customary in the ancient Near East for victorious kings to ride on a donkey into their royal city on a bed of palm leaves. Much to the insult of the Roman authorities, Jesus didn’t even have the courtesy to arrive on a warhorse, but rode a donkey instead, symbolizing victory already won and the coming of a new peace. It is hard to imagine the Romans felt threatened in any way—more likely bemused, provoked, and insulted. They couldn’t have known that this laughable challenge to brute power would, within a few hundred years, quietly undermine and undo the empire and the whole pagan religious system that justified it.

Despite the somber and contentious undertones, the message of Palm Sunday is still cause for celebration. The celebration is for those who can see through the radical humiliation and cross of Christ to the resurrection and way of peace that Christ’s incarnation, life, teachings, miracles, and death all point towards. This is a time to consider the ways we may yet be complicit with the empire of death and the culture of death, and to turn and align our allegiance with the humble one who rode into magnificent defeat on behalf of all who long for a better kingdom.

Julia Stankova, Entry into Jerusalem, 2009

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PALM SUNDAY
by Malcolm Guite

Now to the Gate of my Jerusalem,
The seething holy city of my heart,
The saviour comes. But will I welcome him?
Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start.
They raise their hands; get caught up in the singing,
And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find
The challenge, the reversal He is bringing
Changes their tune. I know what lies behind
The surface flourish that so quickly fades;
Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,
The hardness of the heart, its barricades,
And at the core, the dreadful emptiness
Of a perverted temple. Jesus come
Break my resistance and make me Your home.

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song: Peace Prayer

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PEACE PRAYER
music and lyrics by John Foley, SJ
(performed by Steve Bell)

Lord make me a means of Your Peace
Where there’s hatred grown
Let me sow Your love
Where there’s injury Lord
Let forgiveness be my sword
Lord make me a means of Your Peace

Lord make me a means of Your Peace
When there’s sadness here
Let me sow Your joy
When the darkness nears
May Your light dispel our fears
Lord make me a means of Your Peace

Lord grant me to seek and to share
Less to be consoled
Than to help console
Less be understood
Than to understand Your good
Lord make me a means of Your Peace

Lord grant me to seek and to share
To forgive in Thee
You’ve forgiven me
For to die in Thee
Is eternal life to me

Lord make me a means of Your Peace


The above is excerpted from PilgrimYear : Lent — an on-line devotional series based on the spirituality of the Church Calendar year.

To access the Lent Collection of reflections, or the entire year which includes Advent, Christmastide, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide, and Ordinarytide, visit: pilgrimyear.com

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