What do you do with your palms? You know, the souvenir you get from making it through the longest Gospel reading of the year? They used to do a palm-braiding workshop at our church, and people ended up with the most beautiful creations. When I was little, I took advantage of the extra time in the pew to mold a less-than-spectacular cross. Now we generally take them home and put them beneath the corner of our various religious wall hangings.
The palm branches are, of course, a symbol of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. His disciples, according to Luke, “began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen” (19:37). The striking irony at every Palm Sunday Mass is that the centerpiece of it is the narrative of the Passion of Our Lord, the fact that the crowd who shouted “hosanna” on a Sunday shouted “crucify him!” on Friday. Those palms, no matter how brilliantly braided, remind us that we are hypocrites.
Hypocrisy is a glaring issue for Christians: we aspire to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, but fall short every time. This problem causes many to scoff at us, and others to just give up with faith completely, assuming it is better to not try to live up to the Christian ideal than to “be a hypocrite”. But let’s go back to Mt. Olivet for a minute. There is Jesus, riding on a donkey, his disciples waving palms and praising Him. The Pharisees are outraged, and tell Jesus to silence His disciples, who are praising Him as God. Jesus tells them that if His disciples stop praising Him, the very rocks will cry out. In other words, Jesus, who knew the betrayal that was around the corner from these palm-wavers, forbade them to stop praising Him. It is not our attempts at holiness that are the problem. It is the lack of follow through when the going gets tough.
So, Jesus seems to prefer hypocrisy to total disengagement. Then what is to be done? We follow this Holy Week to its end. What is Jesus’ answer to hypocrisy? The Cross. The whole Old Testament, and even the Gospels, are a story of good intentions that fall totally short. We can’t do it on our own!! Jesus knew that, and that is why He willingly died on the Cross: to release the Holy Spirit that can plant the inner Law within us and through grace, actually make us into who we are called to be.
Obviously, we are not to revel in the fact that we are sinners. The palms themselves give us a clue to our reaction: they are burned next year and placed on our heads as ashes reminding us of our need for repentance. A penitent heart is the only heart that can be open to the life-changing Spirit Jesus came to win for us. So, if you haven’t been to the sacrament of Reconciliation yet this Lent, run! The Lord has a lot prepared for each of us this Holy Week. Let’s wave our palms and rend our hearts and get ready to receive the grace!