Why we walk on Palm Sunday

MARCH 3 2016


By Andrew Hamilton


Palm Sunday is a poignant day. It celebrates the exuberant and optimistic beginning to the final week in Jesus’ life. Those who celebrate the feast know that Jesus’ journey will lead to suffering and death. So we naturally associate it with all the journeys in our own life and in world events which have finished in grief. That is why Palm Sunday is edged with sadness.

Death always hung over Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem.
He had met with increasing hostility, his enemies were plotting, and his followers were edgy about going into the city. But on this day an enthusiastic crowd gathered around him waving palms as he entered the city seated on an ass. It was a small, even absurd, event in the large scheme of things. But the support of people affirmed his mission.

By the end of the week Jesus’ journey had taken him to more conflict with people who mattered, to betrayal by a friend, to arrest, to isolation as friends deserted him, to beatings, to a rigged trial, and to a tortured death. The company and enthusiasm of Palm Sunday had been replaced by grim abandonment. A hopeful beginning had led to an ending of all hope.

Jesus’ journey echoes so much of our own experience and fears. We have all known friends who looked forward to growing family and friendships, to plans for life’s projects and to the promise of a successful and generous life – only to discover one day that they were terminally ill. Their life ended in pain, retrenchment and isolation, in grief and not in celebration.

Such has also been the journey of so many people around the world who fled violence and persecution in their own lands, arrived in other nations with high hopes for a compassionate welcome and found only rejection, discrimination, and brutally calibrated cruelty. The women and children who sought and were denied protection in Australia, are in our hearts and minds this Easter as they are made to walk Jesus’ way.

It is appropriate that on Palm Sunday across Australia many Christians walk in solidarity with people who seek protection. We let them know that they are alone as they follow Jesus’ journey to his Passion; we find that we are not alone in caring for them. We make out of our scanty resources a shelter into which can enter the surprising hope of Easter.

The Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA), sponsored by Jesuit Social Services, carries on this work during the year. It brings together Catholic individuals and groups to effectively advocate for a just and compassionate welcome of people seeking asylum, pools ideas and encourages a decent Australian response. Like Veronica whom we remember as the woman who wiped Jesus’ face as he went to his execution, it is a small service. But large in consequence.