Palm Sunday Mass has long been a favorite day to stand in church with our family.
I’ll be honest, though, it took a long time to fall in love with the “standing” part. Before entering into full communion with the Catholic Church, I would participate where I could with the traditions of the church-some things I just did not always understand.
Sometimes my mind would wander toward impatience. Or sometimes it was discomfort because of pain in my foot as we stood during the gospel reading. Why did we have to stand for THE most longest Gospel reading of the year?
My impatience and my sometimes squirrel brain wandered to who knows what as the words filled the church by different readers.
But then something happened.
I remember this Palm Sunday like not other. I was captivated by the reading of the Gospel.
I don’t know what it was. The pain while I was standing no longer mattered. My very little kids were standing by my side as I felt tears begin to fill my eyes as the words filled my heart during the Gospel. I know I heard these words before, but something was different.
My little one looked up at me with a caring heart, asked, “Are you okay, Mommy? Are they happy or sad tears?” (What can I say? I cry.)
I leaned down and whispered to my sweet one and said, “I am not sure they are both.”
What brought me to tears? I do not know for sure.
The words from the Gospel reading that tugged my heart were from Matthew 27:46-, “And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli lama sabachthani? which means, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” Scripture tells us Jesus cried out from the cross again, and then his spirit was gone.
The weight of those words. They just about did me in.
I was trying to understand why.
Was it for the price Jesus paid for our sins and here I was complaining about Standing? Did He feel abandoned (but not in the way you and I think about abandonment) by his Father? Sad tears.
He sent his Son so we could know we are never alone. Happy tears.
The pain of a Father sacrificing His Son. Feeling abandoned at one time or another by those I love and trusted.
So many thoughts wrestled in my heart that moment and that day.
And while our sin and the human condition is what causes our shame and suffering and the feeling of abandonment, there is joy in knowing Jesus came to us in human form to suffer and die on the cross for us. His sacrifice will make things right for us when we are called home.
Suddenly, the weight of standing for a long time during that Gospel reading seemed so ridiculous. It seemed so inconsequential.
In years to follow and through some challenging times, I began to understand, it is in our suffering that we draw closer to him.
Look at where we find ourselves exactly this moment in time.
People are suffering. While each person suffers for differents reasons, it seems the prayer voices have begun to rise in volume and intensity as communities come together from a distance to support one another.
He told us in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never forsake you or abandon you. told us He would never forsake us.” He is always by our side.
This is the peace, love, and hope we need to rest in times of adversity and darkness. He is the supernatural parent that will NEVER leave us.
Yes, our patience is wearing thin these dark, and uncertain days. We are stuck inside. We feel abandoned. We feel lonely. We are afraid. The world suffers in ways that we cannot begin to understand. Worries, grief, loss, loneliness, all of this suffering is very real.
The suffering feels like a throbbing ache very much my foot felt as I stood in mass during the long gospel reading on that Palm Sunday I mentioned earlier. I was healing from an ongoing injury to a foot/ankle that had been injured long ago. That pain still haunts me today when I stand for long periods of time.
I am sure you can imagine that pain or another that you repeatedly experience yourself. But I realized that day, the weight does not compare to the cross Jesus carried for us to be made whole.
I still don’t know what evoked those tears, maybe the foot was hurting too.
Maybe it was realizing I had been too selfish in not paying attention.
Maybe it was because I was grateful for this incredible sacrifice offered for you and for me. No matter, here we are at Palm Sunday again, and standing for the Gospel is still not easy, but I dread it less.
Standing for this Palm Sunday mass just might be the hardest Palm Sunday to date.
My family and I stood for the Gospel reading in my kitchen as we watched the live stream.
This time it hurt for a much different reason and I felt the tears rushing back again. And somehow I still found beauty in that moment—Church was right there in MY house. I invited Church into MY house.
As a church, we are sacrificing and suffering in a way that is so unfamiliar. We weep and ache as we are separated from our physical churches. For many, it is where they feel closest to God.
The thing is God is STILL RIGHT THERE. He is there in your heart. He meets you right there in your ache and in your suffering. Look into your heart to whatever it is that makes you stay awake at night. Take what you find and offer it to our Good and Faithful Father right where you are.
He IS right there with you, you just have to let Him in.
He is in your worry, in your grief, your loss and loneliness. He will never forsake you. We just have to surrender and trust.
While there is suffering, there can also be peace. There are gifts —we have to refocus our eyes to find that beauty. We have to reframe.
I see a community coming together. I witness prayer warriors clasping virtual hands to pray together across time zones and churches.
I see true heroes showing up for those who are suffering as they fight this disease or those who are supporting the aging who are lonely and unable to do things for themselves. True unsung heroes are emerging at this moment.
Those are the gifts. There are always gifts even in the hard stuff
Seeds are being planted to bring hope. Those seeds are reaching for the light and thirsting for you to water them.
Our Palm this year may be of the “daffodil leaf” variety, but our hearts are the same. But maybe our hearts are a open a bit more, like our screens and phones set to images of church communities connecting far and wide.
Holy Week, here we come-Come as you are (you need to check out this song) It will be unlike one we have seen before. Maybe it is exactly the one we need. This year, we will link arms with one another across our screens and in our hearts.
In the meantime, Imagine the day where we can stand in church. Hold hands during the Our Father. Offer a sign of peace by a handshake or an embrace.
I imagine we will need tissues for that moment.
I look forward to the time I can enter those doors again and STAND for as long as it takes.
For now, I’ll be patient. I will do my best to surrender, to trust and I will join so many others who will pray through this adversity.
I invite you to join me in prayer too. Will you link arms through your screen? It’s the best way to show patience, love, and hope for today.
Let’s take this opportunity to stand closer to God.
And if you need a friend on this journey, I am here to link arms with you even from a safe distance. Be Not Afraid
Blessings on your Holy Week. And remember, friend, you are not alone and always loved.
I will leave you with these words:
I earnestly admonish you, therefore, my brothers, to look after your spiritual well-being with judicious concern. Death is certain; life is short and vanishes like smoke. Fix your minds, then, on the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Inflamed with love for us, he came down from heaven to redeem us. For our sake, he endured every torment of body and soul and shrank from no bodily pain. He himself gave us an example of perfect patience and love. We, then, are to be patient in adversity.St Francis of Paola
And as we continue through this uncertain time, this time like no other, I ask you to consider keeping a record of the thoughts, feelings, memories, photographs. Take time to journal either through pictures or words. You will be grateful you kept a record.