Reading Our Palms

At 10am on March 25 (Palm Sunday this year, and therefore not the Feast of the Annunciation), we will gather in the parish hall rather than in the church. After reading the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem, we will bless palm fronds and distribute them to the congregation. Singing “All glory, laud, and honor” and then reciting Psalm 118:19-29, we will process outside, down the sidewalk around the church and then into the church.

Once we have entered the church, however, our song of triumph quickly turns into a groan of remorse as we begin our week-long contemplation of Jesus’ betrayal at the hands of his friends and suffering at the hands of those who considered themselves defenders of the faith. If you are afraid to take a good hard look at yourself, Palm Sunday is a good day to stay home in bed, for even as we wave our palms, we know that our cries of “hosanna!” will soon turn to cries of “crucify him!” There’s a reason we burn our palms to make ashes for Ash Wednesday—we are only human, and to dust we will inevitably return.

I am particularly mindful of the mortality of our intentions this year as many of us make plans to attend rallies against gun violence on March 24th. These March(es) for our Lives in Washington DC, Indianapolis and South Bend are a response most recently to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14th that left 17 dead and 17 wounded. More broadly speaking, they are also a response to the stream of shootings that has plagued this country in recent decades, a response that demands an end to gun violence.

In our own neighborhood, gun violence has taken the lives of Tysiona Crawford, D’Angelo Jennings, Tyshawn Taylor, and  Daekwon Tobar. This is just to name the deaths of teenagers in the first months of 2018 in South Bend. Draw the circle wider, and the numbers climb. A 13 year-old was shot (but blessedly not killed) just a few blocks from us a couple of days ago. These are our children  To say that we who march are mindful of our own mortality and that of our children is a gross understatement.

Let us also be mindful, however, of our own inconstancy. If there is anything we learn from “reading” our palms throughout Holy Week, it’s that we humans are easily distracted from our firm intentions, by fear, by fatigue and even by boredom. We rally when it means a road trip with our friends on a Spring Day, but we sometimes pass on the chance to share our views with hostile family members and friends or to go to the polls on a rainy day. Or we may vote, but base our votes (at the polls and in the legislature) on other values that seem more important (or more efficacious) at the time.

The fact that not everyone who marches in March will vote in May and November might incline us towards cynicism and despair. Before we give up on humanity, however, let us remember the most important lesson of Holy Week—that God has embraced us in all of our inconstancy, taking on all the implications of our mortality. Knowing ourselves to have come within the reach of that saving embrace, let us act in hope for our common humanity.

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