Take Your Branches to the Church

17 April 2011 Palm Sunday
Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Phil 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14 - 27:66

Take your palm branches to the church and have it blessed. Attend mass, but don't leave without holy water sprinkled on your decorated palms. Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. This has been a tradition since the 4th century, and many Christians (not just Catholics) pretty do the same thing.

We reenact in the liturgy the entry of Jesus in Jerusalem where people took branches as He entered riding on an ass, as a king entering His kingdom. Cloaks carpeted His way. People singing, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of our God! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:6-11).

What we don't know was that the gesture of waving branches was a political statement, since palm branches were a symbol of Israel's political sovereignty since the revolt of the Maccabees. The great desire of Israel to be freed from the clutches of foreign rule as Rome, stirred the need for a political Messiah which they thought would be in the person of Jesus. And they were disappointed: their concept destroyed when their king entered, not on a horse, but on a donkey.

This Sunday, therefore, invites us to enter into a reflective and solemn mood, like the need for quiet when we are frustrated. Jesus is a King of a different kind; His way is uncommon and radical. When we would rather go to war, He would vouch for peace. In fact, riding on a colt dug a common memory in the prophecy of Zechariah. It tells of a king who will ban armaments, whose rule will be gentle, and whose reign will be peaceful (Zechariah 9:9-10).

Palm Sunday challenges us to look closely and honestly into our ways and see which of our values conform with God, and which does not. When we speak ill of our enemies, especially those who do not agree with our positions on certain issues; when we would rather be antagonistic than respectful of them; when we are 'closed' than open for dialogue, are we like Jesus in His passion who neither wished harm on His enemies or summoned the angels to rain fire and brimstone on them?

Are we like Jesus who said, "Love your enemies" as the mark of a Christian, and even on the cross, prayed for forgiveness for them? Sometimes it is ironic that those who claim to be staunchly Christians revert to ways that are antithesis of the very values of Jesus. Instead of being like Christ, we become like the Pharisees, who thought they were doing a great service to their very faith. Look again, those who sang, Hosanna, as Jesus entered, would be the same ones who would shout, "Crucify Him" and put Him to death!

Jesus has atoned for our sins, meaning, He has reconciled us with God. He has made us one again with God. In the word, atonement, you can decipher the meaning: at-one. The Passion of the historical Jesus of Nazareth has been done in the past. It is finished. But it continues within ourselves: helping us rid of those disvalues, or the 'values' contradictory to God, so that we eventually become at one with God. The objective is clear; it's the very purpose of our creation: made in God's image and likeness. Isn't it just right to be reconciled with Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

So, take your branches into the church! It is not to protect you from dark spirits when you place them on your door, as you commonly believe superstitiously. Or it is not to fulfill an obligation, so as not to invite the wrath of God on your life. You will not sin if you don't have branches. But bringing them helps.

The palm branches remind us to enter into the depths of the Holy Week by actively participating with the community in its recalling, reflecting, and being one with Christ who continually suffers today.

We pray that when we sing, "Hosanna" we rightfully acknowledge Christ as our Lord and King, the only one who possesses our very being! We will not anymore exchange Jesus for Barabbas, or cry, "Crucify Him!"

Observe: in all our masses, we sing the Sanctus, Hosanna in the highest. And when we do, we are at one with the choirs of angels in heaven!

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