Palms to Passion

I consider Palm Sunday to be one of the most bipolar days of the Church Year. In fact it is given two titles on the liturgical calendar: Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion.

It begins with a parade of people waving palm branches joyfully praising God for Jesus as he enters Jerusalem. Children and adults alike enjoy re-enacting this scene in our churches on this day. I know I enjoy waving a palm frond my church provides each parishioner as I sing “All Glory, Laud and Honor” as much as the next guy. There are usually little kids laughing and people smiling as we do this sort of playful activity as worship leaders process in.

palm branch

Parishioners wave palm branches like these at the start of Palm Sunday worship.

But eventually the tone of the service shifts abruptly (by design) as we turn our faces to the cross that looms before our Savior as he fulfills the purpose for which he came: releasing us from sin, death and the devil through his suffering, death and resurrection.

The church I attend often has various readers speak portions of the passion narratives as parishioners go to Communion toward the close of the service. The mood is somber and reflective and evokes a sense of dread.

As I think about the effect such a shift in tone has on me, it reminds me of how shocking and disconcerting this must have been for the disciples. Here they were on the top of the world with their Master as they entered Jerusalem with great fanfare, and then the tide would turn against him and them in a matter of days.

Our lives themselves can turn on a dime, too. Things are going well, and then all of a sudden there is a serious illness, an accident, a firing, a natural disaster and our lives are turned upside down. The whiplash of emotions in Palm Sunday is a reminder to us that we are given the power through Christ to endure whatever comes our way and come out on the other side renewed and restored and uplifted by the experience.

This is not to discount the pain of the cross or the pain in our lives by any means, but it is a reminder that we need to put everything in perspective. And as Christians, we need to put everything in the perspective of Christ, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

This Palm Sunday and this Holy Week and every day of our lives, therefore, we are assured that we can do all things through him who gives us strength (Philippians 4:17).

Creative Communications offers palm crosses each year (Order Code PS9) as a symbol of the duality of this day: the joy of the praising people in the shape of the pain of Christ’s sacrifice to save those very people and all the world. Check them out at:

http://catholic.creativecommunications.com/Products/PS9/african-palm-crosses-for-palm-sunday.aspx

palm cross

These palm crosses are are handmade by families in seven mud hut villages in Tanzania, East Africa.

 

 

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