As a young altar server, I loved Palm Sunday. There would be a large group of us servers, all dressed in a red cassock and surplice, and we were given a palm to wave. We would march around the outside of the Church (weather permitting) or around the inside of the Church. We would be singing “Hosanna” again and again. We were told that we were welcoming Jesus into our Community and so we should sing loud while waving our palms. It was a very joyful celebration.
Later in the Seminary I learned that such processions were part of the Jewish Passover celebration. People would go out of the city to welcome those coming to Jerusalem for the special paschal sacrifices. Sometimes it was just a small group of family and friends welcoming them. But if the person was well known there would a large crowd to welcome the pilgrim. The Gospel makes it clear that Jesus was well known as a teacher and healer, and so even the children came out to welcome Him. They were all excited because they thought He would be able to bring back the glory of the Davidic Kingdom. They hailed Him as the Son of David, even though He came among them as a poor simple man, riding on a donkey. Even the children hailed Him as the Son of David.
The Church from its earliest existence would celebrate this event every year. In the Middle Ages the processions could be quite grand. They would include royal trappings to highlight the fact that Jesus was indeed the descendant of David. It was as if the Church was reminding the Community of the importance of celebrating these good moments when Jesus was recognized by the Jews for who He was. It was the beginning of Holy Week and the focus in the liturgy would change to remind us of the suffering Jesus would go through; but on this day the Community was to celebrate who Jesus is. I can remember someone asking my mother why the Nemers had so any parties. Her reply was that it is important to celebrate the happy moments. The sad ones, she said, would take care of themselves. The entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem was a happy moment for Jesus, the disciples, and the thousands of Jews who had come to believe in Him.
After celebrating this joyful procession, the Church has the Community listen to the story of Jesus’ Passion. There are so many aspects to choose from the Passion Story to reflect on, but I have chosen two experiences which must have been very special to Him – the act of love shown to him by a woman and his betrayal by a friend He loved – and which were important for the Christian Community not to forget.
Mark tells us how a woman interrupted this special meal that Jesus was having with His disciples in order to anoint his feet with a very expensive perfume. The disciples were obviously upset and wondered if the perfume could not have been sold and the money given to the poor. But Jesus saw the love that prompted this generous offering and praised her for the gift. Jesus welcomed this act of love towards Himself. He does not think of the price of the perfume; He only sees the love. And He treasured that. He said the story of her love would be told throughout the world. Jesus doesn’t measure the value of the gift but only the value of the love shown Him. He no doubt wanted His followers to use the same measure when people do things for them.
Mark also tells the story of how Judas negotiated with the High Priest for his betrayal of Jesus. Just as Jesus’ heart must have been strenghthened by the love of the woman, so must His heart have been broken by the betrayal of one he considered a close friend. Being betrayed by a person one loves must be one of the greatest pains that we humans can suffer. And yet, Jesus does not scold or reject him, He continues to love His disciple. In this way too Jesus is teaching us how He wants to behave even while our heart is breaking.