This past Sunday, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, brought us to the final stretch of our Lenten pilgrimage in accompanying Jesus on his journey to Easter glory. As we gathered for the blessing of the palm, the priest proclaimed the following salutation: “Dear brothers and sisters, since the beginning of Lent until now we have prepared our hearts by penance and charitable works. Today we gather together to herald with the whole Church the beginning of the celebration of our Lord’s Paschal Mystery, that is to say, of his Passion and Resurrection. For it was to accomplish this mystery that he entered his own city of Jerusalem. Therefore, with all faith and devotion, let us commemorate the Lord’s entry into the city for our salvation, following in his footsteps, so that, being made by his grace partakers of the Cross, we may have a share also in his Resurrection and in his life. Almighty ever-living God, sanctify these branches with your blessing, that we, who follow Christ the King in exultation, may reach the eternal Jerusalem through him. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.”
While still in the dark cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic, I recall last year’s Palm Sunday celebration. Due to the pandemic, we did not have our Palm Sunday procession to the chapel or our usual Sunday Eucharistic celebration with our Sunday visitors. Instead, we faithfully immersed ourselves in the liturgy at a Communion Service. I managed to picture myself at the usual Palm Sunday procession, asking that Christ bless us all with renewed life and an end to the pandemic. I imagined that I was one of the crowd welcoming Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem, waving my palm branch diligently, my eyes meeting Jesus’ eyes with the plea to heal our world from the throes of the pandemic, racial inequality, and political division.
Perhaps our time since March of 2020 has been a continual Lent for us. What has been transformed within us? Has our prayer life deepened? Have we gifted alms or service to the needy? Have we abided by CDC COVID-19 guidelines for the sake of loving our neighbor? Have our hearts grieved for the more than 500,000 who have died and their loved ones left behind?
As we enter into this last week of the Lenten season, we find ourselves at another crossroad in our lives. Lent often seems such a somber season, but the celebration of Palm Sunday has both a jubilant and a somber tone. We are jubilant as we gather for the palm procession, singing “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” We can’t help but raise our hearts in glorious anticipation for the gift of new life at Easter.
As we listened to the long Passion narrative (Mark 14:1-15:47) on Palm Sunday, we walked with Jesus to the cross. Our hearts flip flopped between feelings of sorrow and joy ─ the joyous extravagance of the woman with the alabaster jar anointing Jesus’ head and his recognition of her prophetic role, the sorrowful betrayal, the making ready for the Passover celebration, the sharing of bread and wine at the Last Supper, Peter’s denials, Jesus’ Gethsemane and Sanhedrin experience, the crucifixion, and the burial.
Jesus’ Paschal journey is our journey also. We are called to imitate Jesus’ gifts of self-emptying, surrender, obedience, service, and ultimate love. We are called to continue Jesus’ gift of total love to all we meet, no matter the cost. We are called to wake up each morning to begin our own Paschal journey.
As the time for the crucifixion drew near, Jesus asked his disciples three times to stay awake and keep watch with him. But they continued to sleep. Let us resolve to stay awake and keep watch with Jesus as we again hear various passages from the Passion narrative throughout the week. On Good Friday, we will hear the Passion narrative again, proclaimed from the Gospel of John. This will be our last chance to be faithful companions to Jesus.
Throughout this week, my eyes will gaze frequently on the cross, the ultimate sign of Christ’s love for all. I will have one more chance to journey deeper into the mystery of death and resurrection. I will have one more chance to renew my baptismal and monastic vows. I will have one more chance to join in communion with all the People of God to respond to Christ’s call to “faithfully [observe] God’s teaching in the monastery until death, [and] shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in the eternal presence.” (RB Prologue 50)
My challenge, of course, will be to be mindful of this intention throughout the week. The many liturgical events, the preparations for festive meals, and the unexpected demands of life can sometimes interrupt my plans for staying on a mindful track.
But I can have faith that I am supported and loved on this final stretch of walking with Jesus and know that united with him all will be transformed into Glorious New Life.
By Sister Priscilla Cohen, OSB