Got my alarm set for Sunday morning, so that I can take advantage of the “drive-thru distribution” of blessed palms up at the parish.
And thus begins the oddest Holy Week I have ever experienced.
The Covid-19 shelter-in-place restrictions prohibit us from gathering together as a community to celebrate the liturgy for Palm Sunday – so I guess this is the next best thing: each household, picking up its palm to use as a sacramental (ideally during a “live-streaming” Mass) at home.
And it occurs to me that our physical separation might – in fact – become an invitation to ponder the blessing in our liturgical rubrics a bit more deeply.
Take for instance the “palm frond” we typically wave at Mass. It’s not actually a frond at all…but only part of a frond. (Technically, the lamina, I’m told: The blade shaped part of a leaf where photosynthesis takes place.)
Blade, indeed – which is precisely how the leaf-part often ends up being used by school-aged boys, battling for position in the pew. More sword than carpet swatch…a distraction rather than a tool of adulation for the Son of David making his glorious entrance into the Holy City.
I had occasion to enter the Holy City myself about a year ago, and there – just outside the Temple precinct – I encountered some intact palm fronds. They were impressively wide, and substantial. You could easily imagine them being cut from the trees…and then laid across a dusty path…to honor an incoming Prophet or King.
It helps to keep that image in mind, I think, as we drive-thru early on Palm Sunday to secure our laminae…and then assemble virtually to sing our Hosannas. This is the Body of Christ at work, clutching our palm blades individually. Only in the Spirit do our blades become one frond, capable of giving Jesus our full glory and praise.
If we sit with that mystery a bit, and savor it…we will find that Christ is with us, still – even in the separation and emptiness of this Holy Week. This strangest of Holy Weeks.
And not only with us, but perhaps Jesus is inviting us, too: Inviting us to embrace all this unprecedented emptiness, this calm. Inviting us to trust that God’s hand is at work, even if it leads us to the tomb.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.