And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?” And the crowds replied, “This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.” Mt. 21:10-11
In 1982 I attended Moundsville Junior High. I was all of twelve years old and very nervous about leaving the safety of Central Elementary, to leave what had become so very normal. However, all the changes were fascinating, everything from new teachers, new classmates, new challenges, and expectations. One of the unique experiences was the obligatory Pep Rallies. From time to time, the entire student body would be ushered into the field house after lunch to be whipped up into a frenzy and cheer on to victory either the football or basketball teams. The cheerleaders would lead each class in a cheer to see who had the most school spirit and win the coveted Spirit Stick (a length of broom handle painted orange and black). One of the girls would shout out, “Seventh- Grade, Seventh-grade what’s your cry!” and we would respond, “V-I-C-T-O-R-Y!” and so on for each class. Whichever class shouted the loudest would carry the Spirit Stick until the next Pep Rally. Various coaches and student-athletes would give impromptu speeches and shout about winning and victory, and it could be very emotional for some.
We celebrate Palm Sunday today, and it is certainly more than a Pep Rally. This beautiful day is more than just an opportunity to whip the faithful into a frenzy about the end of Lent and the coming of Easter. It is more than a commemoration of the original Palm Sunday all those centuries ago when Christ made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This Palm Sunday may be more emotional than in years past. Maybe this Palm Sunday more than any other should have us pause and ask ourselves, “Where has the emotion from previous Palm Sundays gone?” Or perhaps, “Why has the emotion of excited expectation been replaced by fear?” What were the thoughts and emotions of the crowds on the first Palm Sunday?
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, just four short days before He would be arrested, He was received with great joy. As He entered, riding a donkey, the crowds spread their cloaks, strewed palm branches before Him and cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest” (Mt. 21:9). Jesus was the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and He was given a Kingly welcome.
Jerusalem itself was the place of the Temple where so many of the ancient kings of Israel offered sacrifice to God. Year after year, decade after decade, and century after century, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies within the Temple to offer sacrifice to God. It was all very normal and familiar. However, little did anyone know that as Jesus entered Jerusalem, the entire city became the new Temple, and Jesus became the final and definitive Priest. He entered this new Holy of Holies as a King and Priest, and He died as the Sacrificial Lamb. He was greeted with shouts of “Hosanna” only to soon hear “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”
What a turn of emotions. What a contrast of experiences. What a shock to the minds and hearts of all of His first followers. How could this be? How could something so glorious become so painful in such a short amount of time? From an earthly perspective, what would soon follow made no sense, but from a divine perspective, it was the beginning of the most glorious act ever known. Our emotions have indeed turned from full-throated cries of “Hosanna, Hosanna!’ to Cries of “We want things to return to normal!” Normalcy is good. Normalcy is safe; normalcy is comfort and convenience and what we think we can control.
I want things to go back to normal, but can they? My normal schedule is one of public Masses and being able to go where I want when I want. The normal course of things is to be able to greet someone with a handshake and stand close to them in conversation. It was normal for us to go to restaurants and the movies and walk in the park. To be able to give out palms on Palm Sunday.
Ahhh, to be normal! This pandemic has changed and will continue to change how we work, play, socialize, and worship. Any tragedy or trial should change us. Should change us for the better. How or why this virus was loosed on the world is anybody’s guess, but it is a cross for sure. Our crosses are given to us to change us to help us grow in holiness. They are not given to us so that we can return to normal! We are called to pick up our crosses and follow Christ. To begin a journey with ever-changing vistas and New experiences. People say that Social Distancing, surgical masks in public, and Mass on the internet (heaven help us), is the new normal, and maybe we have been lugging the same old cross around because we have settled for the new normal. We have accepted what the world is telling us should be familiar and normal.
What is ordinarily normal for the Catholic Church in Huntington? What is normal for Sacred Heart and St. Peter Claver parishes? A return to normal would be a continual decline in membership for both congregations. A return to normal would be ever-dwindling CCD Classes and First Communicants. A return to normal would be that Fr. Doug celebrates more funerals and fewer weddings and baptisms. A return to normal for the Church universal would be fewer and fewer priests, monks, and nuns. A return to normal would be the closing of more and more parishes. The crowds that cried out, “Hosanna in the highest were the same crowds that witnessed the miracles of Jesus. The Crowds that waved palm branches were the same that ate and were satisfied at the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, and they were the same who cried out, ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” They wanted things to go back to normal.
The evil one certainly watched in hatred and jealousy as Jesus, the Eternal Son of the Father, was given this glorious reception by these sons and daughters of God. The envy of the evil one was so great that it became alive and manifested in the souls of some of the religious leaders, in the betrayal of one of the Apostles, in the actions of the civil authorities and in the confused emotions of the crowds. The vile, frightful, forceful and definitive attack on our Lord would soon begin now that He was welcomed into the city of Jerusalem to start the Feast of Passover. Who could have known that on that Passover, the Lamb of Sacrifice would be our Lord Himself?
I have received a few emails and a card in the mail from good, faithful people lamenting the Suspension of Mass and the closing of our Churches. Many have expressed a firm hope that this terrible pandemic will have more and more people return to the Church. I have this hope, but I have allowed the relentless reporting of bad news to turn me into a bit of a pessimist. We all can remember the terrible terrorist attacks on our country on Sept. 11, 2001. How New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania were thrown into chaos. In the aftermath, we all saw a return of many a prodigal son and daughter to the faith because it is in man’s nature to enter into a relationship with God. To search for God in times of struggle and find fulfillment in God. But alas things returned to normal. To be a Christian means to sacrifice. To be a Christian means to unite our suffering with the suffering of Christ. To be a Christian means that God is always the new normal.
In our own lives, we often do all we can to avoid even the slightest amount of sacrifice. But sacrifice is capable of the greatest good when united to the one Sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus entered Jerusalem with perfect determination to begin the Sacrifice that would conquer sin and death and defeat the evil one. And that is precisely what He did.
Reflect, today, upon how willing you are to embrace sacrifice in your own life. No, your sacrifices are not able to save the world by their merit, but if you face your crosses in life, be they big or small, and if you intentionally and wholeheartedly unite them to the actions of Jesus that first Holy Week, then you can be confident that you will suffer with our Lord. But you can also be certain that your suffering will be transformed by the power of this Holy Week and lead you to a glorious sharing in His triumph over all sin and suffering the Eternal Normal. Sacrifice yourself with our Lord this Holy Week so that you, too, will rise victorious with our Lord. Do not cry out, ” Let us return to normal!’ but rather, “Hosanna in the highest!”
May God Bless you