There’s a saying you’ve surely heard: “something just has to be said.” In our Palm Sunday readings we discover those who are eager to say it, those who would say it if no one else did, and we see those who were determined that it not be said.
Let’s start with those who were eager to say it. The crowds who had seen Jesus’ ministry, his miracles, heard his teaching, even partially comprehended the meaning of what he was saying. Their lives had been touched and they were eager to speak and cry out “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Their words were an acknowledgment that they were placing their hope in Jesus – their future, their security, their salvation. They expressed that hope by throwing their cloaks in front of the donkey Jesus was sitting on. Loud words were on their lips in acknowledgement of Jesus as the Chosen One, the Messiah come to deliver them. The palm branches that padded the path were, in and of themselves, but a symbol; their worship was in their words and actions.
We know there were also those in the time of Jesus who were determined that some things not be said – those who just had no stomach for acknowledging that Jesus was the Messiah – the one who deserved what they considered a bunch of “hoopla.”
That spirit is in our culture today to. We hear voices that say “Just keep your religion to yourself. And, whatever you do, don’t be loud about it.” We hear it expressed in choices to ignore history, disbelieve the evidence of global warming, choose to turn their backs, or worse their hearts, against persons of other cultures, upbringing, and color. Modern-day Pharisees have learned not to listen to it; to remain silent – to let the chips fall where they will as long as they don’t land in their back yards.
Thank God for the Thomas Mertons and the Joan Chittisters and Pope Francis in our day; for websites and blogs like “Climate change” and others that keep us alert to issues of injustice and crimes against humanity and the very earth itself: immigration and trafficking and fracking and the list goes on. If those who are divinely gifted with the ability to speak remain silent, then the voice-less gifts of creation will cry out in “silent speech.” We recall that Scripture tells us that when Jesus died on the cross, the Pharisees did not want it acknowledged that this Jesus they’d crucified was the Son of God. Even the disciples had turned silent, fled and hid.
But, what did happen? The Sun cried out the only way it could – by becoming dark from the 6th to the 9th hour. The rocks cried out the only way they could, the earth shook, graves were opened and saints arose to give glory to God. The temple cried out in the only way it could by tearing in two, top to bottom, the curtain that separated the holy from the unholy rendering it a useless monument to a ministry that was no longer valid.
Even the cross on which Jesus was hanging spoke out, proclaiming to all who saw it: “This is the king of the Jews.” Now unbelievers like the Centurion would cry out “surely this was the Son of God
The point is this: If we remain silent, as they say: “to keep the peace” – if we refuse to put our faith into words, creation will have to speak out. Some things just have to be said, and they will be said even if we do not say them. Will those who are gifted with words use that gift, or will the rest of creation have to do it the only way that it can, by upheaval?
When you participate in the Palm Sunday procession, pray for those who have no sense of who Jesus is and what marvelous things He has done for us. We’ll wave our palms: We’ll sing Hosanna and look ahead to the Easter miracle. Keep the palm and use it to remind yourself of who you were on Palm Sunday.
Gaze on your palm frond this week as you take assessment on your personal Lenten resolutions. Note its color, its tapering shape, its flexibility – think about what it can become: a decorative cross, a floweret or hat to shield us from the sun’s penetrating rays. Did you see a difference this year in your participation in our community activities? Was it as whole-hearted as it might have been? Did you make generous donations to our collections for Daystar and AIM? Did the Corporal Works of Mercy get a little more attention this Lent? How do you foresee yourself carrying forward the changes that, with the help of God’s grace, you have practiced for 6 weeks – that’s how long it takes to form new habits. So the question is: Did it take? Will it be a lasting change?
When times get tough, gaze at your palm frond to remind yourself of who you could be. Not the person in the crowd who yells out what everyone else is yelling, but that person who believes what she said on Palm Sunday, and who will follow Christ on the journey wherever it leads.