Keeping Watch… | March 27, 2021 Essay
The Palm Sunday readings have always been unsettling and sad for me. Even though the day begins with a joyful celebration, it ends with the passion of Christ. I have always imagined myself being there with the other disciples as Christ faces his destiny as the Son of God. A searing pain invades my heart and tears flood down my face as this passage is read. How could the people want Jesus condemned to death?
Jesus was a teacher-rabbi, a healer, and the One who came to fulfill the law. He gave us these two commandments that everything else hangs onto—Love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself. It seems pretty simple to understand that Jesus was Love…and Love has enemies, too.
As Jesus’ disciples and followers accompanied him into Jerusalem for the observance of Passover, a fanfare of palms and the singing of “Hosanna” (in Aramaic meaning save or savior) filled the air as a joyous celebration. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” The arrival of Jesus signified to the crowd to prepare the Way of the Lord, to allow Jesus to enter into their hearts, and to follow him. So, why would Jesus’ followers be fearful? Jesus was countercultural, and they knew that the sentiment of the Romans and the Jewish hierarchy in Jerusalem did not mesh with Jesus’ teachings.
Despite his knowledge that one of his disciples would hand him over to his Passion, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal. Little did his disciples know this would be the Last Supper and Jesus was still showing them the Way to carry on after he was gone. During that night, not one of them was able to stay awake and keep watch with him.
Keeping watch. Jesus still invites us to keep watch. A few years ago, I couldn’t help but think about that night Jesus spent alone contemplating his death. One of my best friends whom I met as a student at Syracuse University was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Joanne was the scientist and lapsed Catholic and I was the spiritual one with unwavering faith. Although it was stage one cancer, the tumor was on a blood vessel and the surgeon had to shrink it before it could be removed. That tumor wouldn’t shrink. During these months, we talked on the phone, made lunch dates, visited for Christmas, and spent girls weekends with Cindy, another Syracuse friend. As I accompanied Jo and witnessed how the disease and prognosis changed the course of her life, I kept watch with her.
During the last two weeks I prayed with her, she reaffirmed her belief in God. This wasn’t the end. It was only the beginning of Eternal Life with God and it reminded her that she would be healthy in Heaven and see her parents again. When she was admitted to hospice, I stood watch until she passed. Two weeks later a single feather wafted upon my path and a lone seagull flew over my head at Mercy by the Sea. Joanne was Home.
Faith carries us through death, even though fear and sadness grip at our hearts. It is important to stay awake and keep watch in the darkest hours of a friend’s life. Jesus taught us this. He asked one of his disciples to stay awake and keep watch with him. Palm Sunday is the invitation for us to keep Jesus company, to stay awake and keep watch.
– Jean Santopatre, Pastoral Associate