Palm Sunday wasn’t just another ordinary religious calendar event when I was a kid. When Palm Sunday arrived it brought with it a satchel filled with mixed emotions to sort through. The end of lent was near which meant desserts would soon reappear on the dinner table and I no longer had to decide whether breaking my pledge and eating that small piece of chocolate during lent was worth living with the guilt.
Palm Sunday meant learning new songs in choir and that it was time to shop for a new spring coat or receive a new-to-me spring coat from a cousin. I loved shopping for the new pair of black patent leather shoes with the strap across the top, the small straw white hat with pink rosebuds, the white gloves with a dainty lace trim at the top that matched my new white dress socks. Thoughts of Easter baskets with colorful jelly beans and marshmallow yellow chicks filled my head and I prayed the Easter Bunny would leave my favorite dark chocolate Easter egg filled with white coconut cream.
Yet, all of those pleasant thoughts were distractions from the emotional trauma I experienced during the week that began with Palm Sunday. Never having had a tolerance for violence, the graphic descriptions and photos of the torture and crucifixion of Christ that were discussed and displayed at school and during church services during that week literally made me sick to my stomach and year after year I cringed when Palm Sunday arrived and found I had no option but to witness the violence all over again.
Ironically, many years later, after I had long since grown away from the religion of my youth, a serendipitous event in my life brought me to the Garden of Gethsemane in the foothills of the Mount of Olives in Israel. On the grounds of the garden is a beautiful church built in the 1920s by the Franciscan Friars. Inside the church is a large rock surrounded by a small black cast iron fence and there is a small sign which indicates that this rock may be the actual rock Christ was sitting on when the Roman guards came for him after he had been betrayed by Judas. The name of the small church is the Basilica of Agony.
After visiting the church I walked back into the garden and sat on the ground on that cloudy weekday afternoon and looked across the Kidron Valley at the ancient walls of Jerusalem still standing under the Dome of the Rock after all these centuries. I could see the large areas of archeological excavations and the ancient stairs that had recently been unearthed. Stone steps that had been dated back to the time of Christ; steps that Christ most likely climbed.
Funny that I would find myself in that garden, on the Mount of Olives after all the emotional upheaval caused by my childhood reactions to the story of Palm Sunday and the week that followed. It was thrilling to be there and it felt like a spiritual experience but then so many of the world’s religions began in Jerusalem that I suspect there are few people who could spend time in that city and not feel the spiritual connections.
Was Christ the Son of God? I do not know. I do know Christ lived and I walked where Christ walked and saw where Christ suffered. I know Christ suffered an agonizing death and believed the suffering was for us. How could we not love and respect those convictions?
When I started writing this I wasn’t thinking about that trip to Israel, this story just evolved as I continued to write. Now as I reread this story and see where my life has taken me regarding Palm Sunday and the week that followed I have to admit I find it all quite amazing.