Sunday, April 2, 2017

Matthew 21.1-11: Carried and Waved

The re-enactment of Christ's entry into Jerusalem is an annual event around the world. With palm branches (or some kind of branches) in evidence, Christ's church remembers that Jesus came riding into the city on a donkey and a colt, according to the Gospel reading for Palm/Passion Sunday in lectionary year A (Matthew 21:1-11). Matthew's gospel gives us the donkey and the colt, branches being spread on the road (but not waved) and cries of Hosanna!

It is customary that the palms from one year are kept until the following year when the year-old bone-dry palms are burned to create the ashes imposed on the faithful on Ash Wednesday. The palm branches become the symbol of dust from which we came and to which we will return. The practice reminds us that the people's cries of Hosanna! on Sunday will turn to shouts of Crucify him! on Friday. Inconstancy is an eternally human characteristic.

It is this journey from palm to ash as a reminder of sin that makes the photo below especially interesting. The photo was taken as part of an assignment to document Palm Sunday celebrations around the world. These three women sit at a bus stop in Warsaw, Poland, with palm branches taller than they are. Perhaps the photographer was intrigued with the scale of woman to branch or the contrast of the red scarf with the green branch. Maybe it was the sheer ordinariness of the women's postures. The photo would be perfectly ordinary if the palms were edited out of the picture. The women seem almost unaware that they are holding something the height of a small tree.
Alik Keplicz/AP. Women with palm leaves wait at a bus stop after a Palm Sunday procession in Warsaw, Poland, on March 20, 2016.
Do you think the women are on their way to the procession or on their way home? It doesn't matter, of course, but to see them carrying giant palm fronds in such an ordinary setting might kindle some questions. If we consider the palms as symbols of the human inconstancy (frailty? finitude?) that becomes the sin of demanding the death of an innocent man, then these women give us opportunities to consider: the original branch-bearers carried their inconstancy with them to the Jesus parade and on that day they also carried their inconstancy back home.

On this Sunday of palms and parades, may we remember all the ways that we, too, carefully bring our own frailty, finitude and inconstancy to the places we see Jesus. How often is our inconstancy exhibited in how we live our lives, even in times when we shout "Save us!" And Jesus rides on.

For additional thoughts on Palm Sunday's "triumphal" entry, click here.
For additional thoughts on Palm Sunday's donkey, click here.

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