Not Understanding, Like the Disciples

Photo (c) Used with permission.

Photo (c) Used with permission.

by M. Nelle Carty

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. This is the start of a week that commemorates and celebrates the Christian faith. This re-enactment of our Christian story can also serve as a renewal for us. This week begins with a procession of the congregation with their palms. The palms symbolize victory. Even though we experience the difficulty of reliving the Passion this week, we hold our palms up as a reminder of the triumphal outcome.

Many parishes will begin this procession from outside of the sanctuary of the church. With palms in hand, the congregation will listen to a short reading from either Mk 11:1-10 or Jn 12:12-16, the palms will be blessed, and then everyone will process into the church for mass.

Although there is a choice between reading from the gospel of Mark or John before the blessing of palms and procession, I would like to focus on the brief but powerful reading from John.

His disciples did not understand this at first,
but when Jesus had been glorified
they remembered that these things were written about him
and that they had done this for him.

What is most striking is that the disciples do not comprehend what is taking place. It is only in hindsight that they are able to make sense of the Passion.

This resonates greatly with my experience in life. I cannot even begin to count the number of life events that make sense after time has passed and I have gained perspective. Whether it is the pain of a broken relationship, the death of a loved one or the challenge of a new environment, our perspective often sharpens after we have lived through the experience and felt deep emotions. Some might say that emotions cloud one’s understanding. Maybe this is true in the moment, but I do not completely agree with this. Often, the profound emotions of a lived experience deepen our understanding and offer a sharper understanding of what took place. Isn’t it the joy of being with someone and sometimes the pain of losing someone that helps us realize how much we love that person?

During the gospel reading of the Palm Sunday mass, we will hear the Passion of Jesus Christ read for the first of several times during Holy Week. We already know the end of the story. This sometimes makes it hard to enter into Jesus’ passion and feel the roller-coaster of emotions that the disciples must have felt.

My goal this Holy Week is to enter into the passion, death and resurrection. Not to think about the triumphal procession as we enter the church on Palm Sunday or the community-focused footwashing and breaking of bread on Holy Thursday. I do not want to think about the somber[,] emptiness on Good Friday or the gradual light and great joy we receive on Holy Saturday into Easter Sunday. My desire is to hear it, to feel it, to live. If I do this, I hope that like the disciples I have a fuller understanding in the Easter season. So as I hold up my palm, the symbol of victory, and I process into the main sanctuary of the church, I will not try to understand. I will try to experience.

M. Nelle Carty is almost to the finish line of the Master of Divinity degree at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. She is looking forward to celebrating the Triduum at home in Texas with her family!


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