In preparing for Mass yesterday I found myself wondering, what's the deal with the palms? More specifically, why do we keep them? What's the significance of wrapping them around a crucifix or holy picture at home, or putting them in the family bible? Why do we do that?
It feels like the sort of tradition that once upon a time had a real significance, but now is just something we do because we do.
So then I was thinking about the spectacle of Palm Sunday, which really is unique in the liturgical year. Yes, on Good Friday (and later on Palm Sunday) we read the Passion, with different people getting parts, including the congregation. But I think it's only at the beginning of Palm Sunday* that we literally reenact a Scriptural scene.* We go outside, bless the palms, and then as a group we recreate this moment in which Jesus entered Jerusalem.
(* The Eucharistic prayer itself would seem to fit the bill, too. More than a retelling of the Last Supper it is a reenactment. But the one difference is that the reenactment more or less centers on the presider. The congregation's role is more or less that of witness.)
That sense of recreating the scene turns the palm I think into a sort of souvenir. It's like a Broadway playbill or Mickey Mouse ears -- something that says "I was there. I was at that moment." Or even better, "I participated. I was a part of that moment."
Talk about participating in a moment. Oy.
Which is to say (and this is exactly the same way we think about the Eucharist, and the feast of Christmas as well), Jesus' entrance as king into Jerusalem is not just a historical artifact that we remember. It's something that's understood as also happening today. I was there. I was a part of that. And I have the palm to prove it.
But a souvenir always has some feeling or promise attached to it. I buy and keep Mickey Mouse ears because Disneyland was a magical place for me and my family. And I want not only to remember that but to continue to have a little taste of that in my ordinary life.
For the Harry Potter fans out there, we're talking Horcruxes. The objects that we hold on to from special experiences are invested by us with a bit of that experience. They retain a charge, if you will, that we can draw on by looking at them again later. Holding them. Remembering.
When it comes to the palm, I think of this in terms less of a feeling and more of a promise. What we witness on Palm Sunday is Jesus coming into our lives. And coming in as a king of peace. (One of the things I learned in researching Palm Sunday is that in the ancient world, a king intent on conquest would ride into town on a horse. But a king who rides in on a donkey comes in peace.)
It's him yet again establishing who he intends to be in our lives. The one who save us. The one who sets us free. The one who loves us enough to show up in the midst of all our sinfulness and pain.
And I think we keep the palm as a token of that. Jesus came into the world for me. Jesus is there for me, no matter what.
This Holy Week, we might consider where we find ourselves needing Jesus to enter into our lives right now. The areas where we're experiencing pain, confusion. Anxiety. Loss.
And look to the palm, and imagine Him riding into those places in our lives and our hearts, bringing gentleness and peace.