As a child, Palm Sunday was always a highly anticipated event for me. My parents would buy an elaborate palm-weaving from a street vendor outside our San Bernardino, California, parish. The church would be packed with people standing in the aisles and the narthex, with the overflow spilling out of the doors. All had gathered to experience, within one liturgy, Jesus’ triumphant, joyful entrance and the heartbreak of his passion. My siblings and I, having collected single palms, would wave them during Mass as holy water came sprinkling down, and we’d laugh when it landed on our faces. My mother would always make sure it had reached us, and on those rare occasions when we hadn’t felt it, she’d wipe drops from her own skin and bless us. (After Mass, my father would help us weave our palms into crosses that for the next year we’d keep in our rooms.) My siblings and I enjoyed the first half of the liturgy more than the second half, when the community’s mood would become somber upon Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Our joy was innocent. We were happy because we were children. As I got older, I began to see the joy of the procession with palms through the lens of the injustice in our world, the same injustice that leads to Jesus’ crucifixion.
The Gospel reading at the procession with palms this Sunday is from Luke. It concludes with the following:
[The disciples] proclaimed: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to [Jesus], “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He said in reply, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19: 38-40)
A brief look at the New Jerome Biblical Commentary will tell you that when Jesus responds, “if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” he is referencing Habakkuk 2:11. The prophet Habakkuk calls to God, expressing woe over the injustice and violence of the time. God responds to Habakkuk with a rebuke of tyrants and their motivations, and says, “For the stone in the wall shall cry out, and the beam in the frame shall answer it!” The decrying of injustice and violence perpetuated by tyrants cannot be contained, and in the same way, the joy of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem cannot be contained.