I’ll be honest, Palm Sunday, more precisely “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion,” is my least favorite Sunday of the whole liturgical year. I resist as we fumble our way through Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem and then are immersed in the darkest hours of his human life.
I remember one blustery Palm Sunday rushing past the gathering crowd’s ooo’s and ah’s over a furry little burro in the courtyard to grab a palm branch and head for the back pew of the former choir loft, as far from the action as I could get. I found myself seated with a group of preteen boys (at church because their parents made them come) working out the best way to fold their palms into crosses.
While inclined to soften the coming blow with a cute animal or distract with other activities, there is no avoiding the cross. We want to skip ahead to the fun parts, chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs, beautiful bonnets and a good meal. But the paschal mystery happens again and again, in liturgy and in our lives. Even though I know that the only way out is through, that a seed has to return to earth and die to its former self before new life can grow, I resist.
I resist playing my part in this holy drama: laying down cloak and palm to pave the way for Jesus’ triumphant arrival in Jerusalem, only to turn on him with the mob that calls for his death, and then fall to my knees when Jesus takes his last breath from the cross. Lord, have mercy! I don’t want to crucify him! I don’t want to be reminded of how I’ve hurt others. I’ve experienced enough suffering and death. But each year we’re asked to reprise those parts, to speak our lines, to embody our prayer.
[Because Jesus completely surrendered himself to God] God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Kneeling has become controversial in our time, in public life and in Church. Is this ancient posture a sign of humble reverence or prideful piety? Submission or supplication to higher authority? Solidarity with the fallen? Mourning or sadness in the face of loss? Surrender to mystery? During Jesus’ passion, does kneeling embody some or all of the above?
In the earliest fear-filled days of the pandemic shutdown, I was drawn to create a place I could kneel, an unusual prayer posture for me. During those disorienting days, without a sense of where the world was headed I knelt while losses accumulated. I recall focusing on uncurling my fists, opening my palms, surrendering to God all I could not control and hold on my own.
The hymn quoted by St. Paul tells us that “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied [and] abandoned himself.” Jesus did not cling to being God. With human hands that washed and fed us, he courageously unfolded his palms, spread his arms wide, and surrendered his life for ours.
In subsequent troubled times I have found returning to kneeling during prayer helps quell my fears, bringing some peace to my heart. St. Ignatius’ once wrote:
God’s love calls us to move beyond fear. We ask God for the courage to abandon ourselves unreservedly, so that we might be molded by God’s grace, even as we can not see where that path may lead us.
I don’t know what gifts and challenges Holy Week holds this year. I do know that with God’s grace I can fall on my knees, release my resistance, play my parts, and surrender to the mystery, noticing how Jesus is with us in the triumphs and the tragedies and everything in between. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will, has indeed come again.
Pray with St. Ignatius’ great prayer of surrender, his “Suscipe”
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O Lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.
Listen to Carrie Newcomer’s The Only Way Through is In, a song I turn to for encouragement when experiencing difficult times of life.
Take time during Holy Week to recollect and surrender to Jesus’ love. Notice how we embody signs of that love with one another on Holy Thursday as we wash feet, bless bread and wine, and pray in the garden. On Good Friday accompany Jesus on the road to Calvary and venerate his cross. Wait in empty silence Holy Saturday, then watch with wonder as the Easter Vigil fire fills the dark church one candle at a time with the light of Christ. Remember salvation history as we welcome and baptize. And renewed by the waters of creation, finally raise the roof with joy-filled acclamation: Alleluia! Resucito! He is risen!
St. Ignatius speaks to the value of our space, place, and posture of prayer in the Spiritual Exercises (#73-79). He offers the example of how even our physical posture during prayer is important: “If I find what I desire while kneeling, I will not seek to change my position; if prostrate, I will observe the same direction, etc.” Read more in Becky’s article on “Space and Place of Prayer” on dotMagis blog on IgnatianSpirituality.com.
Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash