Paradise on Earth

Paradise on Earth

Palm Sunday

The Christian life is of its very nature drawn in two directions that are easily opposed. The one is austere, based on the necessity we find ourselves in of imitating Our Lord, of carrying our cross behind Him to Calvary. The other is a jubilant celebration of the victory of God over Satan, of virtue over sin, of life over death in the Resurrection. If we overly emphasise the first, we run the risk of living a life that becomes exceedingly serious, hard, grim in tone, and sadness can take over in our lives. If we over emphasise the second, we run the risk of a superficial optimism which can easily be eclipsed when the tragedies of life strike.

The celebration of Palm Sunday is one which, of all the celebrations of the liturgical year, helps us unite these aspects, to harmonise them without falling into either of the aforementioned pitfalls. Interestingly, it is also one of those cases in which the ancient Roman liturgy of this day, focused solely on the passion, was happily balanced out by the integration of the procession of the palms which did not originate in Rome.

The significance of this is that the procession of the palms behind the veiled cross teaches us that the cross itself is the triumph. Our Blessed Lord did not triumph on Easter Sunday after the defeat of Calvary. No, Good Friday itself is the triumph, the triumph of good over evil, of love over hatred. It is only when love makes it possible to undergo suffering for the very ones who are inflicting it, that hatred and evil are conquered.

The spiritual value of this message is unequivocal and nothing short of revolutionary. It is what makes it possible for a Christian soul to rejoice, not after suffering is over, but in the very midst of suffering, while we are hanging on the cross, because we know that the cross itself is the triumph.

The palm branches we carry today are there to bear witness to this triumph. But we have also blessed a few olive branches, which the liturgy tells us symbolise the spiritual unction which brings peace to the world. Just as the dove let out by Noah from the ark brought back an olive branch, signifying the appeasement of the divine wrath and the granting of peace to the world after the flood, so today those branches tell us that it is only through the blood of the cross that peace can come to the world. It is through the blood of Christ poured out over the world that peace came; it is through the blood of Christians poured out in every place that the world continues to be saved from hatred and evil.

St Paul writes to the Colossians that through Christ God reconciled all things unto Himself, making peace through the blood of His cross (Col 1:20); and to the Ephesians in the same vein he writes that now in Christ Jesus, we who were afar off, are made near by the blood of Christ, for he is our peace, who reconciles us to God and with each other by the cross, killing the enmities in Himself (Cf Eph 2:14-17).

So on this day, let us contemplate this most profound of mysteries and ask our blessed Saviour, through the intercession of the Mother of Sorrows, for this sovereignly valuable grace, the greatest grace we could possibly receive, the grace to learn the value of our daily cross, the grace to love our daily cross, the grace to kiss devoutly the cross on which our lifeblood is poured out in pain.

“When thou hast come to this, that tribulation is sweet and pleasant to thee for Christ’s sake, then reckon that it is well with thee, because thou hast found paradise on earth (The Imitation of Christ, Book 2, ch. 12).