Palm Sunday has a festive atmosphere. A foretaste. A mini-Pascha. Hilary eagerly grabbed her palm branch and prepared for the service. At my parish, we tie bells to all the palms and wave them throughout the entire service, especially whenever we sing, “Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!”. The tiny bells tinkle, and some parishioners bring larger bells to add to the noise. I made Hilary a necklace of a large bell, but she was shy to ring it.
The bells rang and the palms gently swished. It sounded like a sandy beach in the tropics somewhere. We needed the thought of warmth! I had been hoping all month that Pascha coming late this year, would give us a better chance of a warm Holy Week. I guess it is true that we did have a chance…we also had a chance that it would be low 40’s and windy, which is what we got!
At the end of the service, we processed around the church, the cross of Christ leading the way. Such a striking image. Christ, coming as the suffering servant on a foal, at one moment a King being welcomed, and at the same moment the crucified Lord.
Palm Sunday leaves us uplifted and encouraged for the week ahead. We went home, and I replaced last year’s palms in the icon corners with new ones. I am always so struck by the beauty of Orthodoxy in these moments. The Traditions of the Church and the smaller traditions of the cultures who have preserved the Faith for two thousand years are so meaningful. We are not outsiders to these events. We are not remembering some historical occurance a long, long time ago. We are living the celebration in Jerusalem right now at this moment. We are letting go of our sad little perceptions of human time and opening our hearts to yesterday, today and forever.
On Palm Sunday, the fast is modified, so we enjoyed a fish dinner. Then, it was time for Bridegroom Matins. Oh, Bridegroom Matins! This service that is only served four times a year is one of those that never leaves you. I’ll still be humming the hymns in November.
This week, we’re also required to lose our perceptions of time even more. The liturgical day begins at Vespers the night before. Night to night. Not morning to morning. So, on Sunday night, the service is for Monday, not Sunday.
So, on Palm Sunday night, we switch gears with Bridegroom Matins…a service for Holy Monday. On Holy Monday, we remember the cursing of the fig tree. It isn’t all about celebrating. Our relationship with God can’t be one emotional high to another. We have to show in how we live our lives that it is no longer us, but God. We have to bear fruit.
As my priest said, we must always remember the difference between leaves and fruit. Attending services, saying our prayers, fasting…those are leaves. Leaves are important. You gotta have leaves. But these are not the goal of the Christian life. They are the means to the end, and the end is a drawing near to God. If attending a thousand services and reciting a million prayers still leaves me cold, bitter, and self-absorbed, it was all just a waste of time. The fruit of the Spirit, that is what has to come after the leaves have budded. Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and love…always love…must be present in our lives as Christians.
If we want to celebrate with Christ at the Triumphal Entry, we have to be willing to follow Him through this week. The tide is turning. He will no longer be welcomed. He will be reviled and persecuted and finally killed. It is a long walk we still have to go. This is only the beginning.