…. And so to Jerusalem……Palm Sunday
As we approach Palm Sunday, for many this is the entry into Easter.
At Taybeh Jesus had chosen to isolate himself, so that He might prepare Himself so that He might save others. That was a choice He made in preparation for the next stage of His journey into Jerusalem.
“When they drew near to Bethphage, the the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples saying to them, “ Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you should say, “The Lord has need of them” and he will send them immediately” This took place to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass…..And when He entered Jerusalem all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.” (Matt 21: 1-5;10-11)
So Palm Sunday is intended to help us remember that triumphant entry of Jesus on an ass and a colt into Jerusalem. This Easter journey should be ramping up to a period of excitement and busyness – in Jerusalem and in our inner selves. Jesus went to Jerusalem by way of Bethphage, which was near Bethany where his friend Lazarus lived with Martha and Mary.
On Palm Sunday in the Old City of Jerusalem normally the streets are thronging with Christians processing, singing, praying and demonstrating a solidarity with each other and with The Lord. Christians from all over The Holy Land try to get to Jerusalem for the celebrations and the procession. Normally buses are crammed and there is a great feeling of anticipation. Pilgrims come from all parts of the world to celebrate the Easter season. In recent years this has been somewhat muted by the checkpoints that Israelis have introduced from the West Bank into Israel. Restrictions are now more severe because of the curfew imposed by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government to control the coronavirus.
So on this Palm Sunday 2020 the streets of Old Jerusalem are eerily empty. There is a curfew, and all people who have to be out are asked to maintain “a social distance.” This is the first time in living memory that such restrictions have emptied the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem on a day of high drama for the Christian community there.
So we can only join in that isolation of the Christians in Jerusalem. They are not at church today and the holy sites lie quiet, closed and empty. These are sights never before seen in Jerusalem.
The tens of thousands of pilgrims who normally come to celebrate Easter are not in The Holy Land. So the festivities and ceremonies are muted or non-existent. They are taking place behind closed doors or virtually on screens of many different kinds. The economic impact of this is devastating for the Christian communities of Jerusalem and The West Bank.
In Jerusalem – which is the holy city for the three main Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Islam and Judaism – we remember that our Jewish brothers and sisters will be celebrating Passover in a few short weeks when they remember the Exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. Also our Muslim friends will also soon be starting the holy month of Ramadan which is a time for them to be closer to God; it is a time to think of the poor and a time of giving. They too will struggle at this time this year, since they often put much emphasis on “place,” and the places are closed this year.
In our parish we would normally have a procession into church at the beginning of Mass, holding high the palms to be blessed. Today the churches are closed and we have to dig into our memories.
This year we have to live our faith from within our hearts and minds. We shall not be active participants in groups and in churches. We have to find our faith in our hearts and even in our personal imagination. Think of:
2000 years ago the triumphant entry of Jesus on an ass and colt.
A year ago the traditional celebrations in the crowded streets in the maze of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Today the reality of empty streets …
This emptiness might foreshadow the full Passion of Jesus – leaving us with the empty tomb. That emptiness might not just be an absence – but an opportunity for a new beginning; a beginning of a closer understanding of God.
Can we see our isolation as a blessing? It is a blessing for the good of others, and not a personal burden. It is the chance to think about a world order based on better relationships and doing good for others. Take time to reflect on this, and how each of us does it.
We can find plenty of “virtual celebrations” on websites such as Vatican News, EWTN, and our Archdiocesan links. All of these are developed that we might come closer to The Lord who will suffer and die for us in the coming week.
And so we move on with this journey…..an inner journey of hope and faith.
To Holy Thursday……
Reflection by Bart McGettrick, as part of “The Journey Towards Easter”.