Palm Sunday is the last Sunday of Lent and I have come to fully understand WHY that fact has significance.
Yes... I know... I am aware that Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday, commemorates the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Jesus entered riding on the back of a donkey as the people waved palms in his honor. For me, the sadness and irony of this moment is that it was those same individuals who just a few days later, called for Jesus’ crucifixion.
However, even though the real significance lies in that story; for me, Palm Sunday has another role with it’s placement in our yearly liturgy.
Here it is... Palm Sunday is the crowning jewel of suffering that we experience after the long dark days of Lent. After 40 days of struggle and sacrifice, we enter the church bracing ourselves for the final hours of tribulation. If you are a parent, you KNOW what I say to be true.
It all begins with those darn palm pieces!
As we enter the church, the nagging starts as I tell each one of my children that they are only allowed to take ONE palm. No... not a handful... just one! Then, as we make our way to the pew, I give them instructions about how I expect them to handle this new, delightful play thing. It is to stay in the book holder at all times until we need it for the procession. Yeah... that “rule” has never really worked for me. What really happens is that that thin sliver of plant calls to my children, begging to be touched and waved. The greatest joy a child has is to use the feathery end of the palm to tickle their neighbor in the ear. Soon, if it goes unnoticed, other parishioners start seeing our whole row fanning our ears as though we are waving away a troublesome fly.
Sure... every Sunday brings it’s own challenges of distractions that become thorns in the sides of parents. There are those cute, colorful pages that are intended to be used to catechize the little ones during mass. Once all of the faces of the drawings are scribbled over, the paper can often be folded into holy planes. I have broken up many fights during church because an older child seems to regress in age and decides that those colorful pages are the most important things in life and must be taken away from the little ones for which they were intended. Then... of course, there are the holy grails of all pew distractions... THE LITTLE PENCILS!
Those tiny pieces of wood are like gold nuggets to my children. What delight enters their world if we so happen to sit in a pew where these pencils are sticking out of their holders. They may seem innocent enough, but they quickly become a source of disagreement or can be easily transformed into weapons. It is not beyond me to gather them all up and toss them into the pew behind us.
However, Palm Sunday’s palms add a new level of frustration. It must be the fact that the kids only get this kind of play toy once a year. It’s as though they have never touched something so amazing. Swords, bracelets, hair ornaments, and even exercise equipment has been created out of those long green pieces.
But, of course, the sufferings of this perfectly placed Sunday does not stop with the palms. Once I finally get all the children seated and calmed, mass begins and.... they all get up and start marching in the procession. I do love the practice of a Palm Sunday procession. However, I am usually stuck in the pew with the babies as my unruly children are left unattended to march around the perimeter of the church. Of course, they are carrying their palms and they love continuing the tickling of ears to the person in front of them. Once the march is completed, getting my kids to settle back down is not as easily managed as you may think. That little burst of celebration and exercise is all they need to get them riled up.
As we continue on with the celebration of Holy Mass, I manage to contain their little moments of distraction. In fact, I think it takes all the energy I can muster to keep them from being complete nuisance to the rest of the church. But alas, all goes well until.....
The Gospel Reading!
See, here I come to my final point as to why Palm Sunday is perfectly placed as the final Sunday of our long days of Lent. This Gospel reading is the longest one of the entire year! Yes, yes... I love the Holy Scriptures. I value the reading of the story of our salvation. But really... this reading goes on for a good ten minutes. Don’t lie. You have felt it too. It’s not just the kids who feel the pain of standing for such a long reading. My husband says that maybe the church knew the children would need something to get them through this Gospel passage, so it gave them the palm pieces. For me, I think it’s double trouble. With all of the distractions taking place in my pew, I find that I can never follow along correctly to the reading. I spend most of my time trying to find my place and then I usually miss the unison crowd responses. By the time we get to sit down, I can often hear a literal sigh come across the entire congregation. For my children, they act as though they have never suffered such great physical anguish as they did during those ten minutes of standing still. Thank goodness that happens only once a year.
Okay, maybe some of you think I am being sacrilegious or I’m just a big whiner. However, I KNOW I am not alone on this. I know that there are a ton of you parents out there that dread this last Sunday of Lent. Yet, I have come to just accept it as a part of my sufferings of Lent. It’s the perfect ending to that time of trial. For those of you without young children, I suggest you spy out the families in your church and watch with secret delight as the veins start throbbing in the parent’s temples or an entire pew starts swatting away a mysterious fly.
I thank the church for it’s wisdom in the way the yearly liturgy is set up. Despite the agonies of Lent, I love the way it prepares us for the joy of Easter. We need these moments of struggle to more fully understand the gift of life and love our Lord has given us. We need to be uncomfortable. We need to be stretched. And by this point in the year.... WE NEED EASTER!