I woke up on Sunday morning with an overwhelming sense of dread. A sense of dread that all parents of small children share on this particular Sunday.
Oh Palm Sunday, that cruelest of Masses, where innocent symbols of our joyful welcoming of Christ get pressed into misuse a hundred different ways by mischievous children. Light sabers, Indiana Jones whips, fishing poles, nose pickers, eye gougers. So many ways to annoy siblings and exasperate parents.
This year, with six children, none of whom could safely be counted on to have outgrown the temptation of the palms, I felt overwhelmed. I felt like a failure, since I was so woefully unable to instill a sense of civility in my progeny. I found myself not pushing us to make 11 o’clock Mass, because it was my secret hope that if we went to the last chance Mass at 5 o’clock, all the palms would be gone by then.
In the parish parking lot, the annual lecture was delivered: palms are blessed and holy objects. They are not weapons. They are not tools. They are to help our bodies do what our souls should be doing- praying. All six heads nodded dutifully, but I wasn’t fooled. I knew what mischief simmered in their hearts.
Father had us gather in the social hall, where, to my dismay, I saw a heap of roughly ten million palms, ready to be blessed. After the reading and the sprinkling, Father invited us to take a palm and process into the church. I tried to distract my kids, hoping that they wouldn’t all want a palm. They all did.
Holding the hand of my five year old and my six year old, we processed into church. They happily flapped their palms in the air, and then my six year old stopped, really stared at his palm, and asked me, “What are we doing?”
What are we doing? How often had I asked myself that question all during Lent, all during the lead up to this particular Mass. What are we doing? Why were we taking more palms into our house? I knew the fate that waited for them. They would soon turn brown and shriveled, and since they were blessed objects, I couldn’t just toss them in the garbage. Oh no. I’d have to either burn them myself, or remember to haul them to church in time for them to be burnt for Ash Wednesday’s ashes- next year.
I didn’t say any of this. Instead, I said to my child, “We’re joining in with the crowds who welcomed Jesus when he entered Jerusalem. We’re waving our palms and saying, ‘Hurray! Jesus is coming! Jesus is coming!’” Immediately, I felt a rush of tears. I looked up at the Crucifix and felt my heart fill with so much love.
Jesus is coming!
I led the boys to our pew, endured the shoving and jostling for position as all eight of us settled in, and kept hearing that phrase, “Jesus is coming!”
One of my children shoved a palm under my nose. “Smell!!!” he demanded, and I obliged. The sweet, green smell of palm filled me. The smell of new growth. The smell of promise. Jesus is coming!
I remembered those old palms from years past, sitting in hidden, forgotten corners of my house and collecting dust. Why? The Church didn’t ask me to hold on to those things. There were clear instructions for properly getting rid of blessed objects, and really, those instructions weren’t terribly taxing. Yet there I was, balking at bringing in these new, verdant palms into my house because I had a surplus of old dried ones.
That’s Holy Week. That’s the wisdom of the Church. After our time of spiritual housekeeping, where we’re invited to clear out all the old, dusty things in our soul, we get to stand at the gates of Jerusalem, crying out, “Jesus is coming!” and holding fresh, new palms. Our souls are made like those palms, supple and fragrant.
And, because the Church is a good mother, and knows that some of her children skew towards procrastination, our time of purification isn’t limited to Lent. There is time, all the time, to burn those old, dried out palms to make room for the new ones. What shriveled, dusty things do you still have lying around on your soul? There is still time, even during Holy Week, particularly during Holy Week, to clear it out. Bring it to the light of Christ, let it burn up to ash, and take those verdant, beautiful things being offered to you instead.
Jesus is coming!