A Palm Sunday Meditation
The Rev. William H. Marchl, III
Priest Associate, St. Andrew's Church
A 4th. century Spanish nun called Egeria gives us the first glimpse of Palm Sunday in Jerusalem. Writing a long letter while on pilgrimage, she describes the practice of carrying palm leaves while in procession to commemorate today’s gospel. Through the ages, then, we have a tradition of apostolic practice, one that remembers the past, marks today, and anticipates the future.
The story of liturgical reform has been one of yearning to worship the way the first Christians did. We have always used Christ’s own words at the Last Supper in our Eucharist, just as we have always carried palms to commemorate the Triumphal Entry in the manner of the early Jerusalemites.
When I was a pilgrim, we gathered in our numbers at the top of the Mount of Olives facing the Old City and held leaves from the very trees around us. We walked as a throng in the bright sunlight down the rocky road, past the Franciscan Chapel called The Lord Wept. This was Egeria’s, it is our road today. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist we say the sentence (“Holy, Holy, Holy”) with its quotation from the prophet “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
This speaks to that Jewish messianic expectation that the Christ will enter Jerusalem on a colt. Here we have the ancient expectation blending with our Sabbath saying. At these words we make the sign of the cross as an outward gesture toward its once and future holiness.
Palm Sunday telescopes our vision of what the Messiah is. He comes to us in a triumphal entry just as to Egeria and the apostolic Jerusalemites. I remember that steep road down the Mount of Olives as I await Holy Week. Here two thousand years of footsteps pass The Lord Wept with its rooster and long bearded Monk in its stony yard, careful to step, but without trepidation, present in joy where Jesus wept for Jerusalem “The city that kills her prophets.” I walked boldly.
We carry palms as a verdant reminder and quotidian sign of things to come, knowing that the cross is before us.