Joyful Palms & Crying Stones

Reflection for Palm Sunday
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Worshippersduring Palm Sunday Mass in Silver Spring, Maryland (CNS photo/Octavio Duran).

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. 

The disciples are joyful precisely because they have witnessed much pain.

The disciples’ praise and joyful proclamation is also a witness to the injustice and violence that the “king who comes in the name of the Lord” has come to defeat. Jesus’ response—“if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!”—reminds us that we joyfully praise Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem because, on Palm Sunday, God has heard our expressions of woe. I’m reminded of something Saint Oscar Romero said: “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.” The Pharisees in the crowd who ask Jesus to rebuke the disciples are unable to see the Messiah before them, since they have gained wealth and power through injustice and violence that the disciples have cried over. But the disciples are joyful precisely because they have witnessed much pain.

Palm Sunday teaches us that joyful praise and woeful tears can be one in the same. Both are acts of faith and expressions of hope in a new way of being. Silence in this case would amount to hopelessness. Lent is intended to prepare us for a new life in the resurrection.  We are invited at the end of this Lenten season to be silent no more. If one chooses to remain silent in the face of injustices, the truth of these injustices will inevitably be revealed because Jesus’ salvation is one of liberation.

When I see children laugh during the sprinkling rite on Palm Sunday, I think of the importance of childlike vulnerability that the Easter Season invites us to surrender to. This vulnerability reminds us that our lives are dependent on our creator, and that the present moment is a moment of joy because we are children of the Divine. The joyful procession with palms reminds us of the Resurrection. Though the Palm Sunday liturgy ends in sorrow, sorrow is not the end.

This is the fifth in a series of reflections for each Sunday in Lent. You can read the others here.

Claudia Avila Cosnahan is the Mission & Partnerships Director for Commonweal and an instructor and consultant for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

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