I’ve been thinking about all of the large, celebratory gatherings that will not happen this spring.
What if Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem happened now, when many of us must shelter in place and groups of ten or more are banned? No one would line the roads waving palms or throwing their coats on the road. Jesus plus his disciples makes for a group of thirteen, three too many for that upper room Passover meal. How would they have held the Last Supper under these circumstances? While I am unsure how these events would have been altered, I am certain Jesus would still enter Jerusalem and the events of Holy Week would take place – different, no doubt, but unthwarted.
I’ve been thinking about graduations cancelled, weddings postponed, award ceremonies, proms, festivals, concerts, jobs, even funerals that cannot go on as usual. The normal rhythms and milestone markers are gone, as time takes on an amorphous quality, simultaneously feeling as if it is flying and not moving at all. We will not gather this Sunday and parade around the church or the sanctuary waving palms. Little children will not sing Hosanna, not in the same physical space, anyway. And yet, Jesus will still enter Jerusalem. Even if crowds do not line the highway and shout, even if only two or three can gather at home, even if we worship from our sofa instead of in our normal pews, Jesus makes it to Jerusalem.
Our Palm Sunday celebrations will no doubt be quieter, simpler, less demonstrative than we would have imagined just weeks ago, but they will not be stopped. The Son of God enters our living rooms no less than he walked the streets of Jerusalem and we can still cry out to him, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” We may want to whisper, rather than shout. Some of us may put a question mark instead of an exclamation point on the end of those proclamations. Many of us cannot help but wonder what this Savior who rides humbly on a donkey can do to help our stirred-up world. Everyone yearns to know when things will return to some semblance of normal. This Palm and Passion Sunday fills with our questions even as we strain to shout our affirmations.
On that day so long ago when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on borrowed transportation, procured by fumbling, denying, betraying followers, some of the crowds called out in joyous belief, others questioned what all the fuss was about, and none of them really knew what was to come just a few days later. The whole scene was a mixed bag of human emotions, opinions, understanding and perspectives. Even those who named Jesus a prophet from Nazareth didn’t get it completely right. Even the disciples, obedient and dutiful in following Jesus’ directions, couldn’t be fully prepared for the suffering soon to come. In all of their complicated humanity, they did the best they could in that moment and so, too, do we. Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem and the cross knowing all too well our shortcomings and failures. Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem and the cross because of our shortcomings and failures. Jesus knows, even if we do not, our need of him.
As we grieve what is lost this year – the waving palms, the soaring swell of the organ, the joy of singing with one another in the sanctuary, the touch of handshakes and hugs – we can be sure Jesus meets us where we are, no matter how we are. Jesus will not stop on the outskirts of Jerusalem or on the fringes of our lives. He enters fully into the city knowing what’s to come. He enters fully into our lives, knowing our doubts, failings, denials, betrayals, misunderstandings and disappointments. He comes humbly toward us, accepting whatever we offer, a palm branch or tattered coat, exuberant praise or mumbled hope, knowing that soon he will go to the cross for our sake.
Our world, our lives, the whole city is stirred up right now. Then, as now, Jesus comes into places and spaces of upheaval, injustice, sickness, need and evil. He came into this shaken-up earthly realm to save it, to bring healing and wholeness, forgiveness and mercy, grace upon grace. The word for “stirred up” is found only five times in all of the New Testament. Three of those five are in Matthew’s Gospel, and all three of those occurrences relate to Jesus’ Passion and resurrection. This stirred-up city will be the site, in just a few days, where the earth will shake, rocks will split and the temple curtain will be torn in two. This celebratory scene, teeming with people, will soon be deserted, Jesus alone with only the women remaining. The earth will shake yet again, the stone will be rolled away and the guards will be the ones who tremble in fear at the sight of the dazzling angel. All this upheaval, cities stirred up with anxiety and illness, countries heaving with disasters natural and unnatural, human beings reeling from forces well outside of their control, and still Jesus will not be thwarted. He enters into the fray, vulnerable, humble, so close he can see our faces, hear our petitions, feel our swirling emotions.
Nothing can stop Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Nothing can stop the coming of the Son of God. Nothing can prevent Jesus from being present in the midst of all that shakes us and stirs us and causes us to tremble. Soon the earth will shake and the rocks will split and the temple curtain will be torn in two. The crowds will disappear. Even Jesus’ closest friends will abandon him. All will seem lost and dead and beyond redemption, but only for a while, for three days when time will seem to stand still. Then God will upend all our expectations yet again, and those tasked with keeping Jesus in the grave will be the ones shaken and rendered useless, because nothing can stop Easter, either.
I’ve been thinking, grieving, all the gatherings that will not, cannot, happen this Spring, but this Sunday I will celebrate, perhaps quietly and not as I would have hoped to celebrate, but celebrate nonetheless. I will do my best to rejoice and offer what I have to Jesus because he enters fully into the stirred-up city of Jerusalem and our trembling towns and our shaken up lives in order to take on our burdens, forgive our sins, crush evil, defeat death and bring God’s unstoppable new life.
- What are you grieving the loss of during this season of COVID-19? Name it and lift it up to God, trusting that God hears you and is with you in your loss.
- What do you have to offer Jesus this week? What metaphorical palm branch will you wave or coat will you offer him?
- How will you worship this week from wherever you are? Are there ways you can connect with people even if you cannot be physically together?
- What are your favorite memories of Palm Sunday? Share them with someone and think about how you can incorporate the most meaningful aspects of this Sunday and this week into your reordered circumstances.
- What does the Lord have need of and how can you give it to him for his use?
- Take time to pray for the needs of your congregations and your community. Who are those who are utterly stirred up by this challenging season and how can you minister to them?
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