What can we do on Palm Sunday?

This weekend we celebrate Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. We remember the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Our entrance antiphon begins with: “Six days before the Passover, when the Lord came into the city of Jerusalem, the children ran to meet him; in their hands they carried palm branches and with a loud voice cried out: Hosanna in the highest!” Those crowds were ready to proclaim Jesus not just a prophet, but their messiah. The contrast is clear: at the start of Holy Week he is acclaimed, but at its end, he is abandoned.

I spoke with some youth in Cape Town this week in an online Q&A session about spiritual communion. We chatted about observing Mass online, and how it is different from watching a film. For people to participate in the Mass, they need to be in a prayerful space. We spoke of the importance of creating a conducive environment, of having scripture and candles, and of posture and being able to pray. But for those of us in lockdown, this Sunday is even more different. We would have received palms together to commemorate Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem. In the circumstances we find ourselves in, we cannot receive palms. What are we to do?

I saw a post on Facebook talking about this and I’d like to quote from it. It was by the ‘Missionaries of the Holy Spirit’, and it read:

“What if everyone on Sunday April 5th were to place a green branch on the door of their house or in a window to celebrate Palm Sunday.”

It went on to say that “any available green branch or branches could be used; a simple ribbon or other seasonal ornaments could decorate the display. Such a public display would acknowledge this holy day and express our hope for change and transformation, especially when many of us are living behind closed doors.”

To which I would add, that we could even share our photos of these branches online. #PalmSunday.

This, I think, is something we can all do at home. If there are children around, perhaps an activity for them could be to decorate and hang it on the door or gate of our homes.

As I thought about this it stirred another memory of when doors and gates were marked: the feast of Easter. We are preparing ourselves this week to celebrate Easter next Sunday. Easter occurs after the Jewish Passover. We read about this in Exodus 12:26-27. When Jewish children ask what is happening during the Passover meal, Jewish parents say: “It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.”

Let’s pray that the Lord might keep us, and all those we love, safe. Let our green branches, wherever we are, during this lockdown time, remind us that Jesus is our Messiah. That is the reason that despite all that swirls around us we can still proclaim “Hosanna in the highest”.

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ entered the Society of Jesus in 2005 and underwent the usual course of studies in his formation, which took him to such varied places as Canada, France, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Whilst working at the Institute, Matthew managed the background technical aspects of much of the Institute's work and was involved in the Spirituality work, completing the Advanced Spiritual Directors Training Course and the Spiritual Exercises Training run by the Institute. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and was also a part-time lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St Augustine College of South Africa. He is currently the Director of Communications for the Jesuits in Southern Africa, based in Lusaka, Zambia.

m.charlesworth@jesuitinstitute.org.za @mcharlesworth
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