The Meaning of the Palm
I asked my dad several years ago if we should work on some of his funeral planning. He hemmed and hawed and was reluctant to give a straight answer. I said, “You know, no one is getting out of here alive.” His response, “Well, I’m going to try.”
Death is this thing most of us are not too excited about, yet it is something we know we will all have to face someday. As Woody Allen once quipped, “I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Despite my dad’s hopes, we are all powerless against death.
The fact that Jesus rose from the dead, that death had no power over him, does that make a difference for us today?
In the first Easter homily I ever gave as a priest, I asked a simple question about Jesus’ resurrection, “What difference does it make? In the pews that Easter Sunday morning was a woman who died on Easter Monday, and I did her funeral a few days later. I will never forget her, and I will always hope that that Easter Sunday morning gave her hope of an eternal victory over death. I hope Jesus’ resurrection made a difference for her. I hope it makes a difference for all of us.
This is going to seem off-topic, but lately, old Nebraska football games from the ’94 season have been showing up in my YouTube recommendations, and I’ve been watching them. Even though I remember the season’s outcome fondly, a National Championship against Miami, it has been eye-opening to see the tough games they played against worthy opponents. It was a difficult season. They did not score at will. Tommie Frazier, you might remember, sat out of most of the season because of blood clots. When he did play, he was not a very accurate passer and our receivers were better blockers than catchers. They dropped a lot of catchable passes. Oh, but the glory of that final game against Miami. I remember the whole state celebrated. The team’s victory was our victory, even though most of us never once played a down of college football in our lives. Yet despite that, WE won!
For those not fans of Husker football, it made no difference. It was a victory they could not celebrate. The same is true in Jesus’ victory over death. His victory is our victory if we become more than casual fans. To become more than casual fans means entering into our own struggles over imminent death and persistent sin and realizing our powerlessness. It also means letting Jesus into the daily realities of that powerlessness.
The palm is a symbol of victory. It was used in the ancient world, given to the successful competitors in athletic events, including the first Olympics games. To this day, the Olympic medals bear the palm symbol.
Imagine from here on out that whenever we hold a palm on Passion Sunday, it is about celebrating Jesus’ victory. As fans of Jesus, it is our victory as well. WE won because HE won, and that makes all the difference!
Fr. Jeff Lorig