As a child, I loved parading around the church waving palms and signing: “Hosanna, loud hosanna!” The familiar song, the chill of the air and the scent of spring spoke to me of how I loved Jesus, and how I loved the fact that he loved me. As I marched, sang and waved, I anticipated that, on the following Sunday, we would hunt Easter eggs on the church lawn as a preview to a glorious celebration in the lily-scented, packed-out sanctuary of the church.
How old was I, when I first realized that terrible things happened to Jesus between the waving of branches on Palm Sunday and the dawning of Easter? My parents protected me as long as they could from the horrors of Holy Week. So did the church, until one Palm Sunday the service closed with this reading from Philippians 2, verse 8:
And being in human form, Jesus humbled himself and became
obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.
What did this mean, I demanded of my mother on the way home in the car? I did not like her answer, so I stopped parading. Thereafter, I refused to wave the palm that was pressed into my hand. And every year I would ask God to save Jesus from the horrific time called Holy Week. It hurt too much to think of his suffering, so I blocked it out, imagined that this year the story would change. I wanted Jesus to be rescued so he wouldn’t have to suffer and die. Each year I wanted it to be different, but it never was.
If you go to Jerusalem and walk the Via Dolorosa, you will find the stones under your feet uneven and treacherous. You will find the path obscure and the pedestrians threatening. Thieves lurk and soldiers stand with guns held ready on the walls above. Walking in the steps of Jesus, the pilgrimage becomes an essential journey from the Last Supper in Jerusalem, to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the prison below the house of Caiaphas, to the courtroom of Pilate, to the place of crucifixion on Calvary Hill. Walking this walk, the dawning of the truth of who Jesus was, is, and will be for us is revealed; for through his self-emptying, in his humiliation, in his obedience even unto death, Jesus reveals what God is really like, how God suffers and dies with us, and for us. The journey is essential as we go to hell and back with Jesus, and come face to face with the Cross and all that it means. It is indeed a journey that must be made in order that we, as he, might gain the fullness of that which God has to give.
Fifteenth-century spiritual leader St. Ignatius of Loyola argued that until we have traveled with Jesus during Holy Week, we cannot appreciate what he has done for us. Holy Week leads us to maturity in our faith. This essential journey with Jesus ushers us year after year from the childhood image of Jesus as a warm and loving friend to the adult realization that he is this, and so much more. With this in mind, I will gladly receive the palm pressed into my hand this Sunday, walk the Stations of the Cross in the coming week, and give thanks to God for the opportunity to draw closer to the living Christ who transcends centuries to walk with us on the journey.