Why are there palms in the Narthex?
Today is the first day of Holy Week, the most important week of the entire year for Christians. We are each invited to use this week as a miniature “retreat” – a time of prayer and reflection so that we may encounter Jesus more deeply by entering into the story of his death and resurrection. Our retreat begins with a meditation on Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem. For centuries, the people of Israel were waiting for a Messiah-King to come and reclaim the kingdom of Israel from other political powers. The crowd in this scene has been following Jesus for some time and has determined that he is in fact this Messiah-king. As they enter the city of Jerusalem with Jesus, they can hardly contain their excitement. They wave palm branches as a sign of victory and goodness, shouting “Hosanna!” as a prayer of praise and hope in the coming kingdom of Israel. Yet, this crowd doesn’t quite understand the true nature of Jesus’ identity. Although he is the long-awaited Messiah, he is not the violent, military king that will overthrow the Romans, but rather the humble, peaceful king that will overthrow the Spirit of Evil. During the Gospel at today’s Mass, the passion narrative will be read. By this, we are forced to meditate on the ironic connection between Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and his sorrowful death that occurs soon afterward. If Jesus were merely a military Messiah seeking to overthrow a political government, then his death would have been a huge failure and his entry into Jerusalem would be laughable. Yet, since he is far greater than the crowd could have ever imagined, his death is not a disappointment, but the greatest triumph in all of human history. As we take our palms home with us today, I invite each of you to meditate on the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ this week.