Palm Sunday – April
The priest usually invites his congregation to sit during Palm Sunday’s “longest Gospel of the year.” Children are admonished to stop squirming while many of us continue traditions of politely listening as we weave our palm fronds into crosses while the Passion is re-created at the front of the church.
Over the years, I have noticed my own response to Palm Sunday’s readings shifts depending on where I “am” in my life. When I was younger, I thought it was clever that we church goers had a part in the reading. But as I got older, I realized that my assigned lines in the play were horrible. Why would I, a believer, ever yell “crucify him” about my Lord? At the same time, I also grew to realize how easy it is to get caught up in a crowd mentality of joining the uproar, never questioning, and feeling indignant without knowing why.
I constantly caution my students to resist peer pressure, and yet I wonder if I would have been able to stand my ground for Jesus? Perhaps I feel unsettled during the reading because I might relate more to Peter than to the women weeping at the foot of the cross.
Today, I try to listen to the Passion as a more mature student of life. If I simply get up after Mass and treat the reality of the Easter story as if it were a news item buried in the crime section of the local paper, then I am no better than a casual bystander in my faith. I could shake my head, worry about the victims, hope that somebody makes sure justice is done, and then move on through my days. But I can’t do that anymore. Jesus fulfilled prophesy. He lived fully. He offered signs of his divinity even as a man. He did everything he could to help us understand, and yet he had to die for many of us to even begin to take notice.
As my ability to dig into the text and texture of the Gospels has grown, I have discovered that my own role in the story of the Passion should not take place on the sidelines. My vocabulary and responsibility toward articulating my faith has deepened. I can relate to the bystanders seeking what they thought was justice. But this cannot be my excuse. This is Holy Week, a final few days in this season of Lent to accept the faults of my own humanity, to seek reconciliation for not accepting the messages of Jesus, and to begin to rise above the roar of the crowds. I am free to choose my own lines to recite in the story.
The Advanced Placement Literature and Composition exam consists of 55 multiple choice questions and three essays. Questions are based on excerpts from prose and poetry and mostly focus on a rhetorical devices to include structure, diction, tone, and point of view. Several queries pinpoint specific vocabulary that relates to literature.
Recently, the AP Literature class worked diligently to memorize 101 terms. This did not seem to intimidate them at all. Vocabulary lessons are nothing new to them. As early as kindergarten, children take home packets of words to remember and spell. Later, they identify those words as parts of speech and learn to appreciate how they can cleverly string those words into sentences. Before they know it, the whole world opens up to them because they can read and write!
Most of us who live by the school calendar along with the liturgical calendar, recognize that the vocabulary of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter also evolves as children grow.
Elementary vocabulary lists might include words likebunny, egg, and carrot. In Catholic schools, add words like God, Jesus, and cross. As students work their way through middle school and high school, a rabbitmight become a cottontail, and a crossmight become crucifixion. Terms may even traverse across the curriculum into religion and history classes to include miracle, prayer, resurrection, and the Triduumof Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday’s Easter Vigil.
The “literature” of Easter, so eloquently told in the stories of the Acts of the Apostles, the poetry of the Psalms, and the inspired words of the Gospels, weaves this beautiful vocabulary into the very essence of who we are and what we believe. On Easter Sunday, we will read how God anointsJesus with “the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10), of mercythat “endures forever” (Psalm 118), of the paschal lambwho “has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5), and of the resurrectedChrist “taken from the tomb” (John 20).
What we read takes on meaning while we digest the vocabulary of the text we read. This helps us pass AP tests and write essays. More and most importantly, however, these words become the most convincing way to express the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of what we experience in life. To be brought into the context, the time, and the lives of others helps us understand ourselves.
The Easter story is ourstory.