The Warning of the Palm
Well good morning, afternoon, or evening, my friends. I know that after the respite of the weekend, you are fully eager to read my latest cogitations. Therefore, without further adieu, I shall begin!
This week, Christians around the world celebrate Holy Week, the most important week of the liturgical calendar, commemorating the final days of Jesus Christ before his crucifixion. To open Holy Week, churches and ecclesial communities begin with Palm Sunday, celebrating the triumphant entrance of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. While I was standing at the Cathedral of Greensburg this weekend, palm in hand, listening to the Passion being read, I thought about the significance of the palms in the hands of the members of the congregation.
We are often facilely asked to reflect on “who would we have been during Holy Week.” Would we have been like John and remained at the foot of the cross or would we have denied Christ like Peter? Worse yet, would we have been like Judas Iscariot? We are warned not to assume that because we hold our palms, we are devoted members of Christ’s body, ready to go with him every step of the Way of the Cross. In my opinion, it takes a lot of allegorical removal to even begin to view the palms as a positive sign instead of as a warning.
The events of Palm Sunday of the past, when viewed in light of the death and resurrection of Christ, must always serve as a warning to us. On Palm Sunday, the crowds gathered in a throng, celebrating the new savior of Israel, one who was going to bring Israel from bondage under Rome and establish Mount Zion as the highest of all political hills in the world. Of course, we all know that this vision was dismally shattered, ultimately ending with Christ’s crucifixion.
The lesson of the palm seems to me to be the following: Unless you are ready to make your palms into a cross and bear suffering for the sake of others and for the sake of your union to God, put them away and look no more as though you want to wave them high. There is a new lesson for the world during Holy Week: Ideology is not equivalent to following God who is Love. Love, as the main criterion of true religion, is only possible in interpersonal dialogue, not in group-based mania. The actions of the tyrannous throng of the majority do not affect the salvation of Christ by their palm-laden zeal for him. Instead, these ideologues must learn a lesson in what it means to truly be human: To be united to God in Love and through suffering which ultimately brings us out of ourselves.
And so, holding the palm really should serve as this warning: Are you ready to follow your King, the pantocrator, who proclaims “Love; Above Al l Else, Love” or do you just want to play politics?