Over 2000 years ago, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, riding toward his death. 33 years earlier, his mom rode a donkey to Bethlehem toward his birth. The people of Jerusalem who accepted him as the Messiah, put palms on the road ahead of him, and waved twigs. In some traditions, Palm Sunday takes the tradition of the palms; others, take the tradition of the twigs.
I had the privilege in a few years ago to attend Dimanche des Rameaux services at the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Brebières, in Albert, in the Somme, in France. Instead distributing palms, as I’ve seen my whole life, there were tables of branches at the entrance to the Basilica. They were twisty branches with small, waxy, dark green leaves. Many of the French parishioners wrapped cloth around the cut until they got home to put them in some water to last the Eastertide. It was a lovely, but altogether different tradition. I wanted to know what the branches were, but I didn’t have the language to ask, and I was feeling mournful.
In the time since, I’ve learned that they were box-tree branches. When France was mostly rural, everyone had a garden where they grew a small box-tree so that they had enough box-tree twigs for Dimanche des Rameaux. Now, they’re available for a donation to the parish, if you don’t have your own box-tree. I wish I had got a branch. But our trip hurried us along, and I didn’t anticipate the regional tradition, so I missed the opportunity to participate. Eventually, I will plant a box-tree in my garden to remind me of my time in France.
Before we were hurried back onto the bus after the mass, I went to one of the transept chapels with Connor, and we whispered together:
Je vous salue Marie, pleine de grâce, Le Seigneur est avec vous…
It wasn’t new that we prayed in French. We started that tradition at St. Columbkill in McDonald’s Corners, and continued it in St. Clement in Cambridge. But in this church, in Albert, in this magnificent dark gothic Basilica that was destroyed during WW1, it was strange to me that it felt like home.
This Lent, may the touchstones of my faith provide a haven of peace wherever I go.