A few weeks ago, we began Lent by hearing Christ tell us to pray behind closed doors: “Go to your inner room and pray to your Father in secret.”
We had no idea that is exactly how we’d be spending these weeks, or that we would find ourselves separated like this on Palm Sunday.
But here we are. It all feels so different. We have no branches, no crowd. We aren’t shouting “Hosanna!”
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have palms.
The dictionary tells us that the palm tree gets its name from the way its open branches resemble the human hand.
So this year, as we begin Holy Week, these — our hands — are our palms.
And this year, we are called to use them with humility — and with hope.
Holy Week, of course, is unlike any other in the Christian calendar — it begins with triumph and ends with tragedy.
In between, every day becomes a lived prayer, a reflection on the inevitable, as we draw closer, hour by hour, to the betrayal, the Lord’s Supper, the arrest, Christ’s passion and death. All the episodes we heard proclaimed a moment ago.
It all has a new meaning this year. For those of us in New York, Calvary can seem as close as Elmhurst Hospital.
But in spite of that, our faith compels us to look further, to look beyond this Sunday, to the next — and to use these palms, our hands, as instruments of prayer.
These last days of Lent, as we pray for our world, we pray with the great gift of hope, and we do it for this reason:
We know that the Christian story doesn’t end on Good Friday.
I’m reminded of the moment in “The Passion of the Christ” when Jesus, burdened under the weight of the cross, falls to the ground. As he struggles to get up, he sees the heartbroken face of his mother. He forces a weak smile and speaks to her the words we all know from the book of Revelation: “See, mother,” he says, “I make all things new.”
That is what we await.
And that, in many ways, is the great message and mission of Lent that we have been working toward — to make ourselves new, to make our lives new. We have given ourselves over to fasting and sacrifice and prayer and greater acts of love for one another, so that we might be what God intended us to be.
We want God to make all things new — including every one of us.
Including every part of our broken and suffering world.
As we mark these final hours of Lent, during this unforgettable time in history, the great challenge of this moment becomes: how will we spend these last days before Easter?
Well, as I said: we don’t have branches, but we have palms. Put them to use during this week we call “holy.”
Let us pray.
Pray for health care providers and chaplains and doctors and nurses, the heroes of our age. Pray for the sick and the suffering.
Pray for one another.
Let us use our palms, however we can, from within our own “inner rooms,” to uplift one another, to support one another, to help one another carry our crosses.
May we live this Holy Week like no other, in a spirit of prayer like no other: with confidence…with courage…and with fervent hope in The One whose own palms were pierced.
A video of my parish’s Palm Sunday Mass can be viewed below.