Palm is soft and pliable at the outset, flexible and easily folded into cruciforms. As a child, I watched my grandfather cut lapel size brooches from it, and I saw my father weave long skinny slices into larger crosses that he rested above his work bench each year. I never wondered why, really; there was a complicit understanding that each was a reminder of God’s presence in the world. And the palm, to me, welded as it is in the Gospel stories, was like the garland and confetti of modern times: celebratory and congratulatory. But like the richly textured palm, the Gospel story, the readings, offer so much to consider.

Hidden behind the pageantry of Palm Sunday is the stark simplicity of words: the humility of humanness, the need to depend on one another and God, the fears of abandonment that are so much a part of humanity, the pain of betrayal and the inevitability of death are all part of the story of this day. Dipping into any part of it is to hold a mirror to the reality of human experience. These are all things so much a part of life, of who we are. And it is easy in the frenzy of mediocrity to skip right over it and indulge in the distractions that cascade about us. The palm, small and simple, is an invitation to focus on what really matters in life, to dare to realize that we are not alone on the path.

Palm is about companionship and even about legacy. It is also about realizing all of us are on life-journeys. None of us are better than others. All of us make mistakes and bad calls. We fail one another; palm is the reminder that God does not fail us. The Gospel reverberates with the features of humanity: the wily fears and plans of the Pharisees, and the nervous suspicions of the disciples at the Passover table, Jesus’ intuition and sense of betrayal, the drama and cruelty of punishment, even the bloodthirsty crowd. It spills over with complexity as well: we are all of these things in some circumstances, none of them in others. And yet, we are undeniably like those persons who have gone before us, and the deeper truths of the Gospel story surge through our lives if we allow it. It is that time of reflection, the time to look into the mirror and discover where we really are and who we really are. The other side of that is to realize that everyone else is just learning how to be human as well. We can cower in fear, castigate in anger, destroy in righteousness. We can also step back, reconsider options, suffer in silence and make better choices. Rallying to the chant of the mob in the Gospel speaks to the situations and trials of today. Is it the voice of the mob compelling an opinion and impelling action? Or is there higher ground to be found somewhere? Isn’t it about choice? This year, the palm gently shaped into crosses speaks of both the complexity and simplicity of human life, of the possibility of walking tenderly and humbly with one another and with God.

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