Reflection for the Vigil of Palm Sunday 2014

12 April 2014
by Judith Sutera, OSB 

Readings: Zechariah 9:9-17, Matthew 21:1-11

Everybody loves a parade. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, he and his entourage attracted quite a crowd. Some had been following him for a long time. Some had just heard about him and wanted to see him for themselves. Some were hoping for attention to their needs. Some heard all the fuss and just happened to be there. Some were even detractors and enemies who watched with disdain and awaited their chance to discredit him and be rid of him. He rode right into the middle of all of them.

Once, while waiting for a big parade to begin, I thought about the fact that faith is kind of like a parade. The streets are filled with all kinds of people who have been drawn to the same spot because they heard that something very special was going to happen there. They don't know exactly what it will look like or what they will experience, but they come because they want to participate in it. They are diverse and each has a different life and memories and reasons, but they are drawn together by the promise of something very special. Even as they are all talking or doing other things while they wait, there is an air of expectancy. Although they have seen nothing, they have been told by reliable sources that the parade will happen. They are told that it will approach from a certain direction and so they line up, looking often in that exact direction, believing that what they have been told is true and that, sooner or later, they will see something. 

It begins slowly with the faintest sound. They feel the anticipation inside and they sense the excitement of others around them. They move farther into the street and strain their eyes to be the first to glimpse something emerging around the corner. Their hearts race as what they had awaited comes nearer, takes shape, and finally fills their senses when it is right before their eyes. 

But the spiritual parade we await in our lives of faith is not like Macy's on Thanksgiving. Zechariah describes a very different king approaching. Jesus had no booming brass bands or colorful floats. Even the kings and queens of small town parades perch on shiny convertibles. But Jesus came on the most humble beast of burden. Nevertheless, this was a parade of the greatest impact. The readings of the past few weeks have been full of threats to Jesus. People are trying to entrap him into incriminating himself, accusing him of collusion with the devil, belittling him, and even attempting to stone him. Rather than laying low and staying away from controversy, what does he do? He climbs on a donkey and heads straight for the gates of the city with a clamoring crowd praising him all the way. This takes guts. It's an in-your-face readiness to take what comes.

In his defiance, he sets the stage for his next appearance, when some people will again line the streets to watch him pass, this time ending his walk on the cross at Calvary. But all those who declared him king, and were devastated by watching this second procession, were unaware that he would walk again, even more boldly, into Jerusalem in the days that followed and they would know that their acclamation of Jesus as king and chosen one was more true than they ever could have imagined.

As we move into Holy Week, let us cheer for the brave sacrifice that was made for us. As the poor threw down their most important possession, their cloaks, let us fling onto the road at Jesus' feet the things to which we cling that hamper our relationship with God and others. Let us exuberantly shout our love and wave the branches of our sacrifices and our virtuous acts of this Lent. Let us keep looking eagerly up the road as we wait with faith for the parade that will eventually arrive for each of us.