By Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ
Palm Sunday once again and a flood of reflections grip one’s soul. It is six days before the Passover and one cannot help but see the inter-connectedness of the different dimensions that make the day a deeply spiritual experience. These are the Palm Leaves.
Can there be a Palm Sunday without ‘the people’? Surely not! It is they: the people, the crowds who finally recognize him. They see in him the ‘prophet’, perhaps the Messiah, whom they have been longing for. It is their Epiphany! These are ordinary people; not the people at the margins, like the shepherds, or for that matter the wise men of the East.
These are people who are conditioned by the scribes and Pharisees, the manipulators and powerful of their times. However, in one spontaneous act they experience an ‘Arab Spring’: they break free; they remove the shackles, which tie them down. Their voices are tumultuous. It is their NOW moment!
They have the courage to articulate their expectations and in a deeper way, their faith. Those who control their destinies no longer cow them down. They sing their hosannas, loud and clear, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
The angels sang similar words that first night in Bethlehem when this child was born in a stable. Now they use the words “King of Israel” without any hesitation. The Prophet said long ago that he would come in humility seated on a donkey and they revel in this fulfillment.
They have to ‘let go’ in order to let God into their lives. Therefore, they take off their cloaks and spread it on the roads. The significance of that action will never be lost. It was not a mere welcome or the salutations to royalty. It was much more. It was an external manifestation, to get rid of the obstacles that encumbered one in welcoming the Messiah into one’s heart and into one’s life.
The cloaks were going to be trampled upon by the donkey, which in some ways represent the temporariness of all that is material. The breaking of the branches for the welcome, also signifies the constant pruning a tree needs, in order to bear good fruit.
The triumphant entry Jerusalem was for Jesus a ‘mission statement’. In the past, he said, “my hour has not yet come.” Now he is open, he is defiant; he knows that he is at the end of the journey. In a few days from now, in great agony, but with a sense of triumph we will boldly proclaim from the cross, “It is accomplished!”
For the people who wave at him with their hosannas, he looks at them with a pierced heart, “Very soon, you will shout, ‘Crucify Him!’”. They are aware they do not have the determination to follow him to the cross. They will deny him several times over. Yet his supreme sacrifice will challenge all to live that mission here on earth.
Palm Sunday, is therefore an invitation to all God’s people to articulate our faith in the small, simple, ordinary things of daily life, by letting go of all that encumbers us, so that we can truly live the mission entrusted to us, in the here and now!
(Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ, works with the Jesuit Refugee Service on Advocacy and Communications, in the Middle East. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)