Palms in the City

This morning, on Palm Sunday, I attended worship at the Memorial Church of Harvard University. With many others, I joined the procession to the front of the sanctuary to receive a palm branch as we remembered Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to begin the last week of his life on earth. As I spun around to return to my seat, branch in hand, I caught a glimpse of the back balcony where the Harvard University Choir was singing. The sounds of their harmonies accompanied the sight of quivering and dancing branches poking up between their robes and music folders. “Hosanna!” their voices rang, echoing the shouts of praise from two centuries ago.

When the service was over, I began my hour-long commute from Cambridge back to Newton Centre on Boston’s subway system, the T. As I waited beside the tracks, the crowd waiting with me steadily grew. A college student with chipped nail polish and an overstuffed book bag, a man with salt-and-pepper hair talking on his iPhone, a woman carrying bags of groceries, travelers with their suitcases and city maps. I noticed one or two other people with branches of various sizes and shapes, undoubtedly coming from a morning worship service as well. With my palm branch still in my hands, waiting for the T, I suddenly felt a connection to that crowd in Jerusalem long ago, waiting for the appearance of this man named Jesus. We too, are in the city, anticipating the start of a holy week. We too, gather to wait for the light and the dark, the meal and the mourning, the chaos of the cross and the rejoicing of the resurrection.

My small but sturdy palm branch might have seemed out of place on the busy platform or the crowded train, but didn’t Jesus seem out of place as he chose a slow and humble donkey to enter the bustling city of Jerusalem, its citizens hurriedly preparing for Passover? Crying “Hosanna” just a few days before we remember Jesus’ crucifixion on a Roman cross might appear strange or out of touch, but how much more counter-cultural is it to live in this city still recovering from the pain and darkness of the marathon bombings a year ago and yet proclaim resurrection and new life?

Entering into Holy Week, may the surprising and continual grace of God accompany you and me, as we wait for Jesus to enter our lives in new and unusual ways, and may our palm branches be ready to wave and dance in celebration and praise.