The "Both/And" of Palm Sunday

PALM SUNDAY, March 25, 2018

“When the Cheering Stopped” is a book about President Woodrow Wilson.  Once the first World War was over, the 28th President of the United States was hailed as an international hero.  More popular than France’s own heroes, President Wilson was greeted by cheering mobs on his first visit to Paris after the war.  This was also true when he visited England and Italy. The cheering continued for about a year.  Then it gradually began to stop. 

Back in the States, Woodrow Wilson ran into intense opposition in the Senate.   Under the strain of it all, the President’s health began to deteriorate.  In the very next election, his party was defeated.  And with that, Woodrow Wilson, the man who barely a year earlier had been heralded as the new world Messiah, came to the end of his days, a broken and defeated man.  It’s a story that is not altogether unfamiliar.  

Think of Jesus:  Upon emerging onto the public stage, he seemed an overnight sensation.  His entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday saw palm branches spread before him and shouts of "Hosanna."  Yet before it was over, a tidal wave of manipulated opposition welled up that brought Jesus to the cross.

The essential key of Catholic Theology is that it is both/and, not “either/or.” We see this on clear display this Sunday as we celebrate both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday: the messianic welcome into Jerusalem and, at the same, the rejection and suffering of Jesus.

We also see “both/and” in the word “Hosanna.”  In Hebrew, it is a cry of deliverance: “Save us, we pray” or “Please, deliver us.” Yet, as Jesus passes through the gates of Jerusalem, it becomes a shout of joy.  The crowds are acknowledging Jesus as their Messiah in their shouts of “hosanna,” which refers to David’s kingdom, “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David, that is to come!”  “In the highest” invokes heaven’s blessing and the salvation that the Messiah is bringing. 

In essence, “Save us, our Messiah, who comes to fulfill God’s mission! Save us, we beseech you, as you take your rightful throne and extend heaven’s salvation to us!”

Today, as we raise our palm branches and sing Hosanna, let us acknowledge Christ as our only King.  It is only through Him that our quest for happiness and peace is fulfilled, not temporarily, but eternally. As our sole source of all that is good and beautiful in this world and the world to come, we must place Him first and foremost in our lives.   

Kathryn Richards