One of my enduring memories of Palm Sunday growing up is my father’s expressions of exasperation at the amount of palm my sisters and I would bring home from church. At the time I didn’t understand it. Why wouldn’t you want to get a big handful (or two) of palm? But looking back, I kind of get it because by the end of Palm Sunday there would be pieces of palm everywhere – in the car, in the kitchen, in the sofa cushions. In my parents’ house, it’s possible to open cabinets and drawers in the kitchen or the bedrooms and find dried-up palm fronds from the 1980s.
But Palm Sunday was exciting! There were big crowds, a procession, red vestments, and a long reading of the Passion Narrative in which the people played a part. It always seemed to take a little while for the congregation to speak in unison, but by the time we spoke the words, “Crucify Him,” everyone seemed to be into it. It was physically taxing, to stand through the recitation of the Passion, but you kind of understood that it was your share in what Jesus suffered and that it was only right to accept that relatively small discomfort.
This year,however, there is no palm. There is no procession. There is no big congregation to speak the terrible words: “We have no king but Caesar!” What are we to make of this? In the reading from the Gospel of Matthew that begins the liturgy of Palm Sunday this year, we hear: “And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds replied, ‘This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
When I think about this Gospel scene of Christ’s entrance into the City of Jerusalem, I think that perhaps this year we are less the crowds that walk along the road with Our Lord and more like the Holy City itself. We are walled-in, unable to move. We carry no palm, we sing no hymns. We are troubled and confused. And like the Holy City we are being invited in this experience to ask the question: “Who is this?” If, with the help of grace, we recognize this as the time of our visitation from God, this Holy Week will be most memorable as the one in which we discovered our reason for rejoicing.