I found myself scrolling through old pictures until I found this one, this image of a Palm Sunday a few seasons back. Before I got to the image I was looking for though, I flipped past hundreds of others — photographs of children leaning in close to bless a newborn child or an older adult celebrating a birthday. Some of me with hands on shoulders, praying for all good things for students and teachers, interns and council members. Dozens and dozens of pictures of God’s beloved people standing shoulder to shoulder smiling at the camera. I found the tears tickling my nose as I smiled, remembering a time which came so abruptly to an end a few short weeks back.
- Perhaps you also feel the grief as I do by now for all that I took for granted which now seems so distant.
- Maybe you also find yourself wondering when this time will come to an end.
- I would guess you also wonder if we will ever be the same again.
And yet, there are ways, of course, in which we would not want, could not hope to go back to where we were. Back before when we took for granted the touch of a neighbor or a friend. Back when we forgot to pause to see and celebrate those who make our lives possible: grocery shelf stockers, hospital staff who mop the floors, truck drivers who keep bringing in toilet paper which still seems to disappear as fast as it hits the shelves. Indeed, do we ever want to forget again the preciousness of lives where one was not forced to constantly wonder/worry if a pandemic will make its presence known too close to home? (If it has not already.) Don’t you hope that we will never again take for granted the seemingly simple gift of being able to gather in classrooms, in worship naves, over lunch out with a friend? And more than all of this, of course, how can we now ever forget how very connected we are to one another — that looking out for the weakest and the poorest means we are tending us all?
So it is I find myself now wondering how it is we approach these coming days as we look ahead to the holiest week of the year. By now we cancelled our standing order of palm fronds and there will be no Easter lilies this year. No gathering in the atrium to hold our palms high, no gathering together around bread and wine on Maundy Thursday, and certainly no washing of one another’s feet. No standing in the shadow of the cross as the lights go dim and the agony rings clear. Indeed, no coming together in the early morning of Easter for the first singing of “Jesus Christ is Risen Today!” Indeed no brass and tympani, no call and response of “Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed! shouted out together.
It is unimaginable, of course, to any one of us for whom this is all such glorious but perhaps too much taken for granted gift.
There is no doubt at all that you and I will never forget this year when it all was different and would likely never be the same again. And yes, it is hard, at first to find meaning for us in Matthew’s description of that first Palm Sunday when the crowds gathered and the donkey and foal were fetched, when cloaks were the cushion for the Son of David and which lined the road before him. When branches were cut to line his path and the people shouted, “Hosanna!”
Expect for maybe these:
- Hosanna! is a word of praise but it is also a shout for help. “Lord, Save Us!” And don’t we whisper these very words in these days. From a virus which threatens the most vulnerable among us, of course. But don’t we also yearn for one to save this whole broken world from ourselves, from our self centered ways which we could not see before but which have become clear in these last days. To save us from seeing the world and those who inhabit it as not all connected, not all dependent one on another, not all beloved, all the time.
- And this. We hear that Jesus was humble, but I’m told a better word here would be ‘gentle.’ And oh, don’t we need a gentle leader now? One who sees with eyes of love and a heart of kindness? One who walks in with no weapon for self defense, but leaves himself vulnerable to all that will come in the coming days? And don’t we see glimmers of him in every one on the front lines these days who reaches beyond their own fear to touch and heal? (Please don’t get me wrong. There is no reason so many should be so vulnerable in this. No good reason at all why they don’t have what they need to protect themselves. But even so, they keep on doing what they have always done. Caring for those who are sick and suffering. In spite of the possible danger to themselves.)
- And finally this. We read here that as Jesus entered, the whole city was in turmoil. Again, this would be better read as the ‘earth was shaking’ beneath them. And isn’t there wondrous hope and promise in this? That the entrance of One who would give himself away in love would and will literally shake the world at its very foundations? And isn’t that always so? And where, oh where might we see examples of this today? Indeed, where have you seen it? In hospitals and in drive through food pantries? In neighbors looking out for vulnerable neighbors? In those working behind the scenes giving their very lives night and day to protect you and those you love in ways you may never see or begin to understand?
I certainly don’t know how any of this ‘preaches’ this Palm Sunday when we cannot stand in the same place to wave our palms and climb the stairs together singing “All Glory, Laud and Honor.” Then again, maybe this year it takes on even deeper meaning as we whisper our Hosannas as we stay at home. As we recognize the life giving vulnerability of Jesus in so many who give of themselves, putting themselves at risk these days. Oh yes, perhaps this Palm Sunday, this Holy Week, we sense the ground shaking beneath our feet a little more surely as we witness ‘gentleness’ winning the day in all the ways that matter.
- How is it with you? Are you feeling the grief I am as we look ahead to a Holy Week like no other?
- Do you hear “Hosanna” differently this year? From what would you ask to be saved in this season?
- What difference does it make to you that Jesus is described as ‘gentle?’ Where have you witnessed such gentleness in these last days?
- Is it possible that we also sense the ground shaking beneath our feet even now? What has caused this in your world? Is it possible that such sacrificial, self-giving love can do this more powerfully than anything else?