Every Palm Sunday, I have noticed two “attitudes” amongst the faithful that have remained unchanged in all my years as a priest: firstly, since these days our churches are overcrowded, most of us want the best seats in the house. This would mean for some is that one person will come early to Church and “reserve” the seats for friends and family members who will be coming later by putting their bags or other objects (including palms) to say “seats taken”. Another phenomenon that is so obvious on Palm Sunday is that as soon as the Presider invites the congregation to go in procession, the vast majority of people are rushing into the church through the side entrances (short-cut) to take their seats leaving the Presider, Altar Servers, and a few others only to make the full procession into the Church.
Secondly, we want to take home the “perfect” palm. In churches where palms are still provided at the entrances, people take time to choose the “perfect” palm, one that is green, with no insect bite marks, perfectly trimmed, etc. Even when we are asked to bring our own palms, we look for that “perfect” one. If you go after Mass to the table where the palms were placed, you will only find the “imperfect” ones left behind that no one wants to take home.
In fact, both these attitudes go against the very core of what we are celebrating and draws us away from understanding why Jesus took the way of the cross to save us. The very first attitude must remind us that there are no short cuts into the Kingdom. Jesus chooses the most difficult path just to demonstrate the Father’s love towards us. In other words, we may book the best seats in the Church, but a place in the Kingdom is not going to be easy and it will be filled with challenges and obstacles that each of us will face. Sometimes the path of life is strewn with difficulties and we would like quick solutions, instant fixes. But most often this is not the case. For some it can be months, while for others, years to overcome these difficulties…but there are no shortcuts. All we can pray for is the perseverance so as to not depart from God. Jesus “sets his eyes” on Jerusalem even though He knew that there is where it will all come to an end… yet He knew that there were no shortcuts to manifest the Father’s love.
The second attitude of the “perfect” palm should remind us that we are being presented with an “imperfect” king. The perfect king in the eyes of many today is one that has power, wealth, and fame…. rides in a limousine, dresses in designer clothes, surrounded by bodyguards, followed by journalists. Jesus is presented as far from being the perfect king…rides on a colt, dressed as a commoner, surrounded by disciples, followed by common folk, including the poor, outcasts, and the despised. To the world, this is surely an “imperfect” king…no power, no wealth, no fame. Yet in the coming days He is going to show His power, wealth, and fame in a way nobody envisaged. He is going to demonstrate the power to serve, the wealth of the cross, and the fame of His resurrection.
Our celebration with palms today marks not only remembering Jesus’ final journey into Jerusalem but also that we are entering into the most solemn moment of the mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus… that which we have been preparing for the last 40+ days. Starting today, we will be witnessing many symbolic gestures that have profound meaning more than the human mind can comprehend.
Since these symbols are used only once a year, inadvertently we are going to be drawn to these external gestures and there is a high possibility that we could miss the crux of what we are about to profess, celebrate, live, and pray. Let us not be mesmerized only by the external elements of our liturgical celebration but pray that our eyes are fixed on Jesus (not the choir, not the Presider) because what we are about to remember are His death and resurrection… by which we have been saved for “there is no greater love than this: that a person would lay down his life for the sake of his friends” (John 15:13). We are His friends!
– Palm Sunday 2013