Six months ago, while brainstorming inexpensive Christmas gifts for church friends, I planted a date palm.
I actually tried to plant a few palm trees. Growing date palms from store-bought dates—in this case, dates from the Dartmouth, N.S., Bulk Barn—isn’t a foolproof process. First, of course, you have to eat the dates, and you need to eat more than one; like any seed, not all pits will germinate, so preparing multiple pits is a way to build in low expectations (and eat many delicious dates). Then you need to keep them moist for days, ensuring they don’t grow mold while checking for tiny signs of life. Once you see a strong, healthy sprout emerge, you plant.
Or this is what the internet suggested when I decided to grow a date palm. I had perhaps three of six pits germinate; only one survived. As the palm was minuscule at Christmas—and because I was unsure if it, too, would survive—I decided to keep it.
Our baby palm tree now sits with our spring seed starts, waiting for the sun of Palm Sunday to break through early morning clouds. With only two small fronds, I’m afraid it won’t be volunteering to cover our living room floor in a heroic effort to kick off Holy Week “the right way”—the way we know and love, the way that feels familiar and magnificent. Yet I also know that those little leaves will be more than what many of us have—a luxurious token by which we welcome Jesus into this week’s drama.
What is Palm Sunday but a reminder that our expectations around the necessary and familiar are often misplaced? There is a deep part of me, on this day, that prays that Jesus will ride through the gates of Coronavirus and annihilate the threat we face—the threat that is sickening and killing so many. Yet every Palm Sunday, we learn that Jesus is the Prince of Peace—coming to liberate us in ways we might struggle to understand at first, as the disciples did:
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. (John 12:12-16)
As I greet Holy Week this morning, I find it helpful to remember that great crowds waited for a messiah to deliver them from the trials of the day. For those expecting a valiant king storming the gates of Jerusalem upon a steed, with sword raised high, the sight of our Lord might have been a disappointment—a foretaste of the pain the disciples would feel at Christ’s crucifixion. Yet we know the story didn’t end there for them, and it won’t for us. Our church doors may be closed, but the liturgy of the week is set in motion. Jesus will humbly enter Jerusalem, where he will dine with friends, suffer insomnia, be sentenced to death and will rise from the dead before ascending into heaven, to join the Creator. And even that isn’t the end of his story, or ours. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
So, let us hear the story that angel voices tell, during previous calamities and in the time of COVID-19. As Emily Huntington Miller wrote, “I am both weak and sinful, but this I surely know: The Lord came down to save me because he loved me so.” This week, we get to see that story again unfold.
May you have a blessed Holy Week.