On the first Palm Sunday there was much turmoil in Jerusalem. Today, as it was when Jesus road his donkey into Jerusalem, there is great turmoil as the world seeks to grapple with an unseen enemy. This week was quite difficult for all of us as the impact of the virus seems to be drawing even closer, and nothing seems to be able to hold back its onslaught. No person seems outside of its reach, and we sit cowering in our corners in deep fear.
My friends, as we begin Holy week, we are challenged more than ever to resist romanticizing of the events leading to Jesus’ horrible torture, crucifixion and eventual death. This myth of a superhero beyond the reach of pain, shame, brokenness and eventual death, is just that, a myth. This is not a story of a suicide bomber; a terrorist with a death-wish or an angry mentally ill person who seeks a suicide-by-cop. This is a living story of human betrayal, power hungry political egoists, and religious fanaticism all mixed together with an oppressed people seeking cheap entertainment; like a WWE filled stadium. It is into that cauldron of emotions and needs steps a Jesus who sought to offer humanity another way of thinking and a deeper level of loving. And, like a lamb heading toward its slaughter, he entered Jerusalem.
Palm Sunday is not about a triumphant entry of a movie star encountering a paparazzi crowd, but a day in which the center of power is about to be shifted in such a significant manner, it can never be reset. God was about to establish his power, not in those who the world had already anointed, but in those who the world had rejected. Power was being shifted from might to love, from revenge to forgiveness, from hapless dejection to overpowering hope. Yet, for this to be achieved, Jesus had to enter the very hallways of power, and like Samson, hold onto its pillars, stand and destroy the evil edifice even if it cost Him His very life.
Palm Sunday without palm branches or crosses demands we ask ourselves, “What do we carry as a symbol of Jesus undying love?”. What do we hang in our cars and homes when we have nothing tangible for others to see? How can we express the love of Jesus who boldly rode into the face of danger and declared God’s powerful presence?
Palm Sunday now takes on a whole new meaning, for now we must rely more heavily on the testimony of our faith and our acts of love. The power of love of Jesus is now activated in us. We must walk boldly and faithfully into the prevailing turmoil and declare the powerful presence of God. Holy week for me has always been linked to the creation narrative in which for six days God spoke to the darkness, the chaos, the uninhabited and a lifeless lump of clay and declared light, order, and life. Then He rested! Now in our time of rest, more than ever, we are called to be Christians. We are called to be co-creators with God as He recreates His world in the face of this daunting atmosphere of death.
Palm Sunday is about our willingness never to lose hope in the face of overwhelming fear. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10. At Christmas we joyfully sang, “Fear not said He for mighty dread had fall upon them” Now we understand the depth of the challenge to look at fear in its face and declare our faith in God. It is what our health workers are doing every single day.
On Palm Sunday, we look to Jesus who was not blinded by the accolades of the crowd. The fear was as thick as mud or the stifling summer humidity. There was fear all around. Even the leaders, who felt the fear, sought ways out of the situation, but there was no getting around this palpable fear. The human recklessness and fragile power that abused the hungry and the poor must be condemned. A society built upon might, and frail divisions of race, creed or class will die. Human relationships built upon the shifting sands of expediency must die. Jesus was the rock on which a new world was built.
Now the down-trodden must be cared for in humane ways. Isn’t it amazing how in the face of the Covid 19 virus, governments all over the world can now find money to care for the poor and unemployed? Isn’t it amazing we can now enjoy our local parks in ways we used to save for Disney? Isn’t it amazing we now discover doctors, nurses, healthcare workers from the simplest cleaner to the top surgeon are more valuable than sports stars? Isn’t amazing we now discover our teachers are more valuable than The Housewives of New Jersey? Is it not amazing that even those within our church who resisted technology in favor of traditions and buildings are now upset that they cannot zoom? Even the church, which resisted efforts to assist urban parishes that have been struggling with limited resources can now be willing to provide grace periods. “Where was this grace before?”, we ask.
My friends, this week I have been busy supporting the faith and hopes of members of our church in the medical field. They are the people inspired by the donkey-riding Jesus who, with little or no armor or protective gear, walks into the turmoil with a burning desire to bring life to those in the throes of death. Let this Palm Sunday without Palms be a reminder of their daily ride into hospitals and nursing homes not immune from the deadly virus, seeing colleagues falling in the battle but ploughing ahead because Jesus is with them. Ride on doctors, nurses and all health care workers. Your Jesus is riding with you. Ride or die now takes on a new meaning. Believe you me, when they enter in rooms, patients in their hearts and with weak lips are saying, “Blessed are those who come in the name of the Lord”.
Our role is to be a genuine PALM Sunday crowd and through our daily prayers provide hope and strength. Our cry is “Ride on Jesus Ride on to die because by your death new life will come into the world. You died so we may live.” When you look in your cars and don’t see you Palm cross, know my friends you are wearing it in your heart. Wear it well. Wear it with hope. Wear it in truth. Wear it with joy. Now, go and take the name of Jesus with you!