“Palms or Passion?”
Rev. Elder Dr. Mona West
For many years during the month of October, my spouse Deb and I would make a pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayo. It is a little church nestled in the village of Chimayo, New Mexico, USA, about 30 miles North of Santa Fe. According to legend, a man by the name of Bernardo Abeyto was in the nearby hills doing penance during Holy Week in 1810 when he suddenly noticed a strange light several hills away. He went to see the light and saw that it came from the ground, so he started to dig and found a wooden cross with the carved image of the Black Christ of Guatemala.
Twice, Don Bernardo, along with a priest and other pilgrims, formed a procession and took the cross to a nearby village in Santa Cruz. Each time, the cross mysteriously returned to the hills, and after its third return, they decided the cross wanted to stay at the place of its origin, which is Chimayo. So, Don Bernardo Abeyto built the santuario in 1813 to house the miracle.
To this day, people make pilgrimage during Holy Week, walking barefoot for miles to El Santuario’s doors to ask for healing. The original cross is still in the main church, and there is a prayer room off to the side of the chapel with the sacred pit where Don Bernardo first found the crucifix. The pit is a low-ceiling room with a hole in the stone floor. In the hole is holy dirt known for its healing powers. People kneel and pray there and are allowed to take some of the dirt. There is a sign that reads, ‘Limit, one bag of holy dirt per family.’ The prayer room is filled with crutches and braces left behind by the healed, and there are hand-written notes of testimony to the power of this holy place.
On Palm Sunday, we wave our palms in order to remember Jesus’ pilgrimage to Jerusalem the last days of his life. Some of the Palms of this day will be dried and burned to create ‘Holy Dirt’ — the Ashes for next year’s Lent — and some of the Palms will be fashioned into little crosses to remind us how quickly our cries of “hosanna” turn into “crucify him.”
Originally this day was called The Sunday of the Passion, and it began with a procession and palms, which were only a dramatic prelude to the day. The real focus was on the reading of the passion of Jesus, which would then be read again on Good Friday. Over the years, the palms have been separated from the passion. We find ourselves, as one writer has said, ‘seduced by the palms.’ I wonder why? I think it has to do with our ‘passion threshold.’ We know Good Friday is right around the corner, so we hold off as long as we can, because it is an unpleasant experience. We don’t want to go there!
This Sunday is an invitation to enter into the passion of Jesus. It is a threshold experience that offers opportunity for transformation — ours and the world’s. The way we enter into the passion is to enter into the mystery of pain and brokenness — Jesus’, our own, and the world’s — to discover we are not alone. Entering into the passion does not mean stoically bearing the burdens of life. It does mean identifying so completely with others in their pain and struggle that your presence, your solidarity, your being-with, is redemptive. This is a mystery which claims God is not the author of suffering but is with us in our suffering as we are present to one another.
Thomas Merton has said that while Christ’s physical body was crucified by Pilate and the Pharisees, Christ’s mystical body is drawn and quartered from age to age by the disunion of our souls through selfishness and sin. Merton states, “As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a body of Broken Bones.”
I have never had a broken bone, but I understand that in order for the break to heal, for the bone to become one piece again, it has to be reset, and that is a painful process. When we are with each other in our suffering out of love, we reset the broken body of Christ. This Holy Week, I invite us to cross over our passion threshold.