When I was a child, I used to walk five miles to school in the snow, just to let them know that I was too sick to come to school that day.” So my father used to tell me. Hmmm…? Really – but hey, dad was really old, right? He probably grew up in the ice age and maybe the weather was very different back then. Such are the stories of our youth as parents try to teach us the lessons of life, sometimes wrapped in yarns, tall-tales, and memories of a different time and place. I still wonder how the to-and-from the store was uphill both ways.
Palm Sunday was different when I was growing up. Back in the day, we heard the gospel of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem; we waved our palms and celebrated Holy Communion. And then we hunkered down for Holy Week for going to church. There was none of this “spring break” stuff – we went to school (and I think we had extra homework, too!… and we had to go even if it snowed … yes, I grew up in Orlando, but that is beside the point).
Wednesday night you went to church for the celebrations of “Spy Wednesday.” That was the remembrance of Jesus in Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper. This is when Judas decided that when he had the chance he would betray Jesus. Holy Thursday you went to Mass again, so you could hear the account of the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. Good Friday morning you were in church again to hear about what went on in the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus’ arrest, and celebrate the Stations of the Cross. Later you return again to hear about the trial before Pilate, the scourging, the crucifixion, and death of Jesus. Holy Saturday was a quiet day; you toughed it out waiting.
Then Easter Sunday your mom put on her best outfit and a hat you had never previously seen. You were dressed in your finest Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes (I made that little seersucker jacket look good!), and you went to church to celebrate the Resurrection. And then to Uncle Frank and Aunt Eileen’s house for the Easter egg hunt. When we were kids, you had to work hard in order to get to the Easter egg hunt. There was none of this Palm Sunday “lite” when you heard the whole Passion story and then went about your week only to show up on Easter morning to hear the good news of the Resurrection. OK, so Holy Week wasn’t exactly as I remember, but it is still both ways uphill to get to the Publix on Bayshore.
Clearly, I am writing a little tongue-in-cheek, but as with such things, there is a point. My dad did not walk in the snow to school. He grew up two blocks from the parish and the school in Atlanta. (Apparently the city blocks were a lot longer then, given that two of them totaled 5 miles.) But then he did walk to school, which was the point. It was a lesson in self-reliance.
When I was studying liturgy in seminary, and we got to the Holy Week liturgies – I was struck by the readings and the title of “Palm Sunday.” When did it become “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion?” (Answer: 1970) And when did they add the Passion account to Palm Sunday? (Answer: in the middle ages; way before I was born ). As I pondered such mysteries, I mused about “When I was a kid….” and had a recounting of youthful Holy Week liturgies that apparently weren’t exactly the way I remembered it. But maybe my befuddled accounting of things also has a point.
If I were in charge of things, I think I would leave Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as the only gospel and just call it Palm Sunday. I would cancel school and get your boss to give you Wednesday thru Sunday off from work so that you could indeed journey with the Church into Holy Week. Then you could come to Mass on Spy Wednesday and hear about the betrayal, celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday evening, and then wait and watch with the Lord, return on Good Friday to experience the quiet passion of Jesus’ crucifixion, then wait in uncertainty, only to celebrate the transformation of death into life on Easter Sunday. Maybe the real point of recounting a youthful Holy Week (that wasn’t exactly as I remember) is to remind us all this is a week very different from all other weeks.
It’s Holy Week. It is part of the way to Easter morning. Take the time and come walk