Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the beginning of the holiest week in all Christian churches. Though I did once have the privilege of eating a Seder meal with a Jewish family (something I loved and will never forget), I have never attended a Palm Sunday service anywhere except in a Catholic Church.
I always hear talk about Catholics who only show their faces inside a church on Christmas and Easter, but I will tell you that Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday have to be right up there in attendance. Our Mass was packed and I saw a whole lot of unfamiliar faces. That’s okay, because if I was only going to go to two masses a year, they would be Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. They’re my favorite Masses, and the ones I find most meaningful.
At our Mass, people who chose to do so processed into the church with their blessed palms in their hands, accompanied by the choir singing Hosanna to the Son of David; hosanna in the highest! Our celebrant, strikingly adorned in a red vestment (as was every Catholic priest in the world), was led in by the Knights of Columbus in full Knights regalia carrying massive palm leaves donated by parishioners from their own backyard palm trees.
I admit that singing hosanna to the Son of David along with the choir unfailingly brings tears to my eyes as I recall that Jesus was met with similar adulation as he was led into Jerusalem a short time before his passion and death. Those people could have been me.
In the Catholic Church (and perhaps other churches; see above: I’ve never been to any other church on Palm Sunday) one of the gospel writer’s passion of Christ is read. This year we read the Passion according to St. Mark. St. Mark’s gospel is one of my favorites. According to a bible study teacher I once had, St. Mark wrote his gospel in a hurry because the followers of Jesus were being chased down by the Romans. He believed that someone – and so it might as well be HIM – needed to write things down before it got too out of hand. That’s why his gospel is short and sweet.
I love that St. Mark begins his passion with the story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet and rubbed him with fragrant oil. People griped that it was such a waste of money – money that could have been given to the poor. It always reminds me of people who complain that too much money is wasted on making churches beautiful. Jesus responded, “The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me. Amen, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” The house of God should be beautiful.
I’m always struck at how little the apostles understood about what was about to happen to their friend. They couldn’t keep their eyes open while sitting with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was so afraid, and his friends couldn’t quite see it. I am reminded of how often I don’t see the fear in my own friends and family or mistake it for something else. Peter’s boast that he would never betray Jesus just hours before he betrayed him not once, but three times reminds me of how often I am fickle to God.
Mark’s description of the actual crucifixion lacks the panache of St. Luke’s, but as we kneel to ponder his death, I cry every time. Even the centurion, seeing the sanctuary curtain being destroyed, said, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
After Mass, the question before many is what to do with the blessed palms that we carried into church. Tossing them in the garbage seems disrespectful. Thankfully, my husband spends the first 15 minutes of every Palm Sunday Mass turning our palms into a cross which will hang somewhere in my house for the next year…..