(A Palm Sunday post from 2009… Appropriate this year in light of this coming attraction).
Growing up, I always used to associate Palm Sunday with the coming of spring. In the Midwest, spring meant that flowers bloomed and trees blossomed. The earth got green again. Girls put on frilly white dresses and boys were forced to wear pastel ties. The kids waived palm fronds in the air and heard flannel graph stories of Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem.
In Southern California, palm trees are everywhere. There are many varieties, but I’m most taken with the really really tall, skinny ones that line some of the streets in Beverly Hills, for example. How do they stay up? They are flimsy looking and yet durable—regal icons watching over the glittery sidewalks and sad-eyed starlets, basking in the Pacific sun and ocean/desert air. On gusty days they sway and wobble, like tipsy flappers at the Coconut Grove. Come morning, they’re still there—minus a few fronds, perhaps.
The first house I lived in—on Redbud Street in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma—had some pretty interesting trees. There were a few peach trees in the backyard from which we occasionally plucked fruit and made pie or cobbler. There were dogwoods and Bradford pear trees, the latter of which was a beautiful white in the spring but had a tendency to lose branches in winter ice storms. And there was a monstrous oak that secreted this vomit-like substance from a few holes in its bark. I never found out what that was all about.
Have you ever been to Yosemite National Park? They have the biggest trees I’ve ever seen. In the park’s famous Mariposa Grove, there are trees with trunks so wide you can drive through them. There are trees there that are more than 2,500 years old. That means that some of the trees that are still growing in this grove were centuries old at the time Christ was walking the earth.
Terrence Malick’s film, The New World (one of my favorite movies ever) has a lot of shots of trees. Trees are important in the film. “Think of a tree, how it grows around its wounds,” says one character. “If a branch breaks off, it don’t stop but keeps reaching towards the light.” The New World is about resiliency—about pushing on amidst hardship, pain, suffering, and striving to make the best of one’s circumstance. Trees are like that—always growing, pulled toward the sky, even when winds and rain and hardship come. They weather all seasons, even if they lose some pieces along the way.
Trees are about life and death. They’re mostly about life, but there’s some death in there too. The thing I love about trees is that even when they look lost and hopeless and perhaps down for the count, there is so often a vitality brimming beneath the bark, or a bud about ready to pop. In the dead of winter, an ugly, dead-looking tree is still very much alive, ready to spring forth with greenery and oxygen when the weather turns. It’s a comfort, and I feel it keenly this Palm Sunday weekend: there’s always a hidden life behind dead-looking things. There’s always the promise of newness and rebirth.
Nothing is ever really dead.