My question to Jean Brown, our administrative assistant: “If you had to write a reflection on Palm Sunday, what would you write?”
Her instant response: “I’d start with the palms.” My response to her: “ Why palms?”
Jean’s reply set me off on quite a few Google moments. (I’m always amazed at how much time I can spend on my phone going from one topic to another.) I first asked how many species of palm there are – 2600 across Earth.
I then asked “why palms on Palm Sunday?” Oh my – Wikipedia had several pearls of learning for me.
- The palm branch is a symbol of victory, triumph, peace and eternal life originating in the ancient Near East and Mediterranean world.
- In Judaism a closed frond of the date palm is part of the festival of Sukkot. This festival of booths or tabernacles includes the building of a small walled structure roofed with palm fronds. These booths or tabernacles are to remind the Jews of the forty days spent wandering in the desert before arriving in the Promised Land.
- In Christianity the palm branch is associated particularly with Palm Sunday … when palm branches were waved at the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
- Since victory signals an end to a conflict … the palm developed into a symbol of peace, a meaning it can have in Islam, where it is often associated with Paradise.
I let all the above information rattle around in me for a few hours — still wondering what to say about Palm Sunday.
I found myself returning over and over to the phrase “since victory signals an end to a conflict …”
Did/does Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem signal an end to conflict? It doesn’t seem so — not in the face of what we know we will commemorate in the coming week — Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday.
And we know that Easter Sunday follows— so, in celebrating Palm Sunday, are we celebrating the beginning of the end of the conflict for Jesus?
When we join in Palm Sunday’s liturgy and carry our palm fronds, are we walking in the sure hope that we know life always triumphs over death? Do we hold our palms as a sign that we are willing to walk the same journey of Jesus — the way of the cross, of death and resurrection?
As we take our palm fronds home and place them wherever we place them, let us pray for one another as we face our own victories and sufferings. Let us pray that we might, as followers of Jesus, remember the palm as symbol of peace. Let our frond remind us that we have a daily role to play in ending conflict and creating peace — within us and in our communities and across Earth.
Happy Palm Sunday! May all of us enjoy a meaningful celebration of Holy Week and Easter.
Palm Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays in the year. I find comfort when attending Palm Sunday Mass and when receiving my palm. Not unlike your words, I hold the palm as a symbol of peace and will place it(them) in strategic places within my home.
“A daily role in ending conflict and creating peace”…….beautiful and challenging words to take with me as spring break ends and school is back in session. Perhaps taking a palm frond into my therapy room will remind me to always stand on the side of ending conflict between myself and co-workers and creating peace. Thank you Sister Denise.
Thank you, Denise. I have been so aware of how many young people and (not so young) are not aware of the meaning of our Catholic symbols and practices. Somehow they missed them growing up. This week I found myself deep in discussion about Palm Sunday and the up-coming Triduum with two different groups of young adults I meet with. It was so much a part of our celebration of Lent and Easter growing up. I also discovered that even some of my Catholic Colleagues who work here in the Pastoral Center were not aware of the meaning of ashes on Ash Wednesday or the Blessing of throats on Feb. 3. Some had never heard of St. Blaise. It’s good you and I can tell stories. Thanks for the wonderful article.
Thanks, Denise, for yet another thoughtful reflection. My own take on the story is, you won’t be surprised, that this scene was Jesus’ and his community/coalition supporters organizing their first public demonstration – a kind of street-theater mocking the powers and principalities of his day. Their action demonstrated that real power comes from being in solidarity with the lowly who deserve love, mercy and justice not abuse. Palms added to the theater as they were plentiful in the region and used like we might use banners or placards today. If this be true, is it any wonder he was the target for arrest, imprisonment, and crucifixion in the days to come? Palms are a reminder for me that even in the midst of hard times we can find creative ideas and simple symbols to show our opposition to abusive power. May It Be So!