We will have missed two Palm Sundays all together in one place now.
Many of you are ahead of us in terms of coming together in person for worship, I know. If things keep moving forward in the best way, soon we will join you in that. We are not there yet, however, and so again this year we will not do as we had done so many times before:
Among the people I serve, those who are able, gather first in the atrium with our palms held aloft.
- As we wait for the sounds of the organ prelude, people lean in close to one another, greeting each other, catching up on what has happened since last we saw each other face to face.
- As the minutes approach 9 am, I climb the stairs to where I can see the crowd. I invite the children to join me there, taking a moment to speak to them of the meaning of the day — about why we have palms, about the first meaning of ‘Hosanna’ perhaps.
- In these last years, one of our children has climbed onto a stool and read the processional Gospel into a microphone.
- We bless the palms.
- “All Glory Laud and Honor” sounds.
- With song sheets in hand we follow the children into the nave, making our way to our seats for the start of Holy Week.
I miss it more than I can say: the sights, the sounds, the smells, the faces of all those beloved ones.
And yet, even if we were all together in one place, it would surely not look like it did before. Not yet this year anyway, would we be standing close together, leaning towards each other. We would not be singing loudly and waving our palms as we used to do. Indeed, for this space in time, the virus has taken a great deal from us. Or so it seems, a lot of the time. Indeed, even as we begin to glimpse an end to all of this, we still find that we have much to grieve.
Now I do not know how it is where you live and serve, but for all of my ministry there has been an ongoing tension between what many remember as the straightforward joyful tones of Palm Sunday now moving so quickly to the somber reading of the Passion. (The reasoning behind this now decades old change is sound, of course. In an ever busier world, fewer people are able to participate in receiving the whole story as it plays through Thursday and Friday and Saturday. And so we share it all on that Sunday before.) And yet, while my childhood reminiscences are of joyful Palm Sundays? If you are really listening to the story as it plays out before us now, the minor tones are already there foreshadowing what is to come. Perhaps it is easier for us to hear these this year than it has been in years past.
For throughout these short verses in Mark’s Gospel, we realize that the contrast is being laid out between a normal kind of ‘king’ and the one who Jesus is, even before all that follows in Jerusalem:
- For Jesus sets up his own procession, if you will. He has disciples who go to get the colt, yes, but he is still the one who makes the arrangements. He has no other to do this menial work in his behalf.
- And as for that which would carry him into town? It was a colt which seems to have no shelter — it is found tied up on the street after all. It was not a fine steed nor a chariot. It was a colt.
- And there was no fine cloth to cushion his ride. Those who were there laid out their own cloaks for this purpose.
- And those who were there had come unprepared to show their allegiance and there were so waving banners provided for them to hold. Indeed, can’t you just see them stepping into a nearby field and cutting down branches so the crowd would have something to wave in the air as they walked alongside Jesus into Jerusalem?
- And as he rode, we hear no trumpet sound. Just the voices of those who were with him shouting words of blessing and celebration and yes, if we are to understand the meaning of “Hosanna,” also pleading that God would save.
And through it all, Jesus says not a word. Not since he sent his disciples to get the colt has he spoken.
It almost sounds like child’s play, doesn’t it?
And yet, it is not.
These are grown people as we hear it now, acting out a ritual ‘fit for a king’ only it is done, it seems at first, almost spontaneously with cloaks and branches and shouts filling in for what one might normally expect.
Only the story is not ‘spontaneous,’ is it?
- For only chapters before Jesus has pointed to the ending which is unavoidable now. (Mark 8:31-39)
- An ending which would involve betrayal and denial, suffering and death.
- A path Jesus is taking now on which his followers are invited soon to follow.
I miss the faces of children most of all, it’s true. Maybe this is because they cannot yet really imagine the ending you and I know so well. Because they simply raise their palms high and march behind me with such abandon. Indeed, maybe this is why we yearn still for the Palm Sundays of our youth, those of us who are old enough to remember them feeling different than they do today. Perhaps we miss it so because we would rather not look at what has been ours to see, know what has been ours to know, feel what has been ours to feel. Indeed, this year more than ever.
And yet, this year perhaps, these images carry even more meaning than ever before as we come, we hope, nearer to the end of a season which cannot help but have marked us, changed us even.
- Perhaps this time as we whisper “Hosanna” we have an even deeper sense of how very much we need God’s saving.
- Maybe as we see those who take off their cloaks, giving from what they had, we find ourselves remembering all those who are in need of so much we take for granted. And perhaps we, too, hear the call to ‘take off our own cloaks’ and give them away as well.
- Perhaps as we realize we have nothing to wave in the parade, we improvise as well — doing old things in new ways and simply taking hold of whatever is at hand — to add our praise for all that is.
And oh, maybe more than all of this, perhaps this time following a year which has held a whole lot of silence, maybe we can better tune our ears to hear what Jesus is not saying as he makes his fateful way into Jerusalem.
For he speaks no words of empty triumph.
Nor are there words of condemnation here.
- Indeed, one surely wonders what it is he sees and does not say out loud as he observes the exuberance of those shouting and waving and laying down their own cloaks for him.
- One imagines how his heart must have been full to breaking knowing what he did of what it was to be so human, so hopeful, and yet, seeing beyond the moment to how their faith would dissipate in the face of deadly challenge, and the heartbreak which would follow.
Oh, I wonder if as he rode along if his own heart quaked a bit in fear. For himself, surely, but also in great love for all the rest who only knew Palm Sunday, but not the rest. Not yet.
It doesn’t say, he doesn’t say, of course. But this is what I am listening for as I walk alongside, hearing the shouts and feeling the exuberant breeze of branches whooshing in homage.
I’m listening to the silence and I am hearing the ominous sound of all that is yet to come —- foreboding, yes, and yet still hopeful, because like you, I know the ending.
Indeed, I find I hear the story differently this year after all that has been. Perhaps you do as well.
And through it all I am doing all I can to stand still in the gift this day holds:
That the One who planned his own procession, who heard the shouts of his followers, who rode that colt into Jerusalem saying not a word was the One who did it all out of great love.
For the children who do not yet know, but who likely also know more than they did not long ago.
And for you and me and all of us who have seen more, felt more, grieved more, and yes hoped more than ever before.
Because we know what comes next in a way we maybe never did before.
But even more than that, perhaps because we also know our need of God in ways we maybe never did before.
Indeed, this year, and perhaps for all the years to come, it could just be that our shouted, our whispered ‘Hosannas’ will ring more true than ever before.
- How do you remember Palm Sunday? Does it all seem different in this season? How is this for you?
- What do you suppose Jesus is not saying as he rides?
- How is your own ‘Hosanna’ different this time through? What have you witnessed or experienced in these last months which change how you sing it, how you shout it, how you whisper it this year?