I left Mass on Palm Sunday wondering why this first day of Holy Week didn’t sit well with me. Our parish did a beautiful job with the palms and the red décor. The music was poignant and perfect. Everything had gone just as it should…just as it always has on Palm Sunday.
It took me some time to figure out my disenchantment. The Palm Sunday liturgy itself was the problem. An extra Gospel reading is oddly inserted before the entrance procession into Mass, which recounts Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
But once the procession is at the altar, Palm Sunday becomes Passion Sunday, and we are moved from Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, directly into the last supper, the betrayal, the arrest, the crucifixion, and the burial – all of which will be devoutly recounted over the three days of the Triduum later in the week. On Palm Sunday we miss out by not fully celebrating Jesus' triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. We could be bearing witness to and savoring Jesus’ earthly ministry, which is now over. Instead, Palm Sunday is more like a preview of the upcoming week.
In the 1998 move, Fallen, Denzel Washington’s character says, “There are moments which mark your life. Moments when you realize nothing will ever be the same and time is divided into two parts - before this, and after this.” I can image Jesus feeling something similar as he passed through the Jerusalem gate.
The Jesus we encounter in the scriptures during the Passion is a Jesus who has surrendered himself to the inevitable. He becomes quiet, saying few words. He is resolute, courageous, downcast, nonconfrontational. This is not the Jesus of Palm Sunday.The Jesus before the Passion, the Jesus who entered Jerusalem, was a mystic, on fire with the love of God. For him, the Spirit was an experienced reality. He was a prophet, a reformer, and a healer, as well as a consummate storyteller with a sense of humor. His mission had a grip on his heart. The dominant culture could not contain, manage, or control this creative dreamer.
He knew as he entered Jerusalem that he was putting himself in mortal danger. He knew that he might well be leaving behind all that perhaps he still dreamed of accomplishing. The crowd of admirers and disciples who greeted him at the gates of the city - acclaiming him, waving palm branches, and laying their cloaks on the ground to honor him, had all experienced the power of his presence.
When we encounter Jesus entering the gates of Jerusalem, what we find is a spiritual visionary afire with the living Spirit of God, animated with the intense passion of the prophet, enlightened with the deep perception of the mystic, and grounded in the mud and texture of the living earth.
Did this revolutionary, compassionate healer and mystic, for whom God was his life’s passion, understand himself to be God? That is something we will never know. For us though, he was Emmanuel…God with us. A God of the new covenant. A God of engagement, participation, liberation, and compassion.
Before we watch him transform himself to endure his own suffering and death…let us all say…
Hosanna in the Highest!