“His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done in him.” (John 12:16)
Beloved, today we begin a second Holy Week in COVID-19 pandemic time. We have prayed for God’s merciful assistance to enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts whereby we have been given life and immortality. (cf. The Book of Common Prayer p. 270) We pray as we do on every Lord’s Day for the showing forth of the Lord Jesus’s death until he comes among us again in glory. (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26) As disciples in ages past have beheld in awe God’s ‘tender mercy love for the human race’ (BCP p. 219) in Jesus’s suffering and cross, so we do this Palm Sunday.
We continue at present separated in longing by disease and death, grief and loss, fear and uncertainty. Yet we join in hope with those who went out of the holy city of Jerusalem to greet the humble Savior. We raise our cries, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Together we hail Jesus, the Victor over death and evil, present among us now. Our pilgrimage through suffering is in company with that of God’s beloved Son, Jesus. Though scattered and terrified we are being healed, saved, and the whole world transformed and renewed by his glorious cross and resurrection.
Every ten years in the Bavarian village of Oberammergau, they hold the world-famous Passion Play. One of the most famous actors who portrayed Christ was Anton Lang. And there’s a story of how one day, after a performance, a tourist and his wife went back stage to meet the actors. After taking Lang’s picture, the man noticed the great cross that the actor had carried during the performance. He said to his wife, “Here, take the camera and I’ll lift the cross on my shoulder, and then snap my picture.” Before Lang could say anything, the tourist had stooped down to lift the prop to his shoulder. He couldn’t budge it. The cross was made with solid oak beams. In amazement the man turned to Lang and said, “I thought it would be hollow and light. Why do you carry a cross which is so terribly heavy?” The actor replied, “Sir, if I did not feel the weight of the cross, I could not play his part.”
To feel the weight of the cross is what we have been doing in different ways during this season of Lent, and what we are about to do in a focused and intentional way as we begin to live this Holy Week. But during this particular Lent, which we have all had to bear, continues to be very, very heavy. In the midst of this pandemic, isolation, anxiety, sickness, bereavement, have already weighed heavily on all of us.
In Jesus’ day, palms were carried in joyful, triumphant processions by Jews and Romans alike. Roman soldiers, returning from a successful conquest, would wave palms as they returned home to their welcome. Jews used palm adornments for their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to the Festival of Tabernacles. And palm decorations were carved in stone within the Temple. Palms symbolized an oasis in the desert, victory in public games and in conquests, and a sign of blessing and homage.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem replicates how the Roman Emperor and his emissaries would enter the city: on a roadway strewn with palms, and with the crowds waving palms, shouting their praise. The crowds welcoming Jesus are shouting, “Hosanna,” which, in Hebrew, means “savior.” “Savior” is the very title already claimed by the Roman Emperor. The Roman Emperor’s titles included the “Savior of the World,” and “Son of God,” and “Lord of Lords.”[i] That’s the Roman Emperor. Unlike the Emperor and his party, whose processional entry would be on magnificent Persian stallions, Jesus is on a donkey.
Here we kneel at the tomb once more, watching, waiting, numb, and grieving. We stare at love embodied and remember love received. Our song is love unknown, our Savior’s love—to you, to me—love to the loveless shown that we might lovely be.[i]
Love shown to children. “Let the little ones come to me. Do not stop them.”[ii] Listen to the kids and follow them that we might lovely be.
Love shown to blind Bartimaeus who cried out for mercy. Jesus turned, invited, and healed that we might lovely be.[iii]
Love shown to the palm-waving crowd who sang “hosanna.” Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey not a stallion, leading with humility that we might lovely be.[iv]
Love shown to the woman who returned to anoint Jesus with costly ointment. Jesus welcomed and honored her that we might lovely be.
Love shown resisting violence. Jesus said: “No more of this” and healed the one his followers struck that we might lovely be.[v]
It is hard to believe that a week from tomorrow marks one year since my brothers Curtis, John, Luke, and I embarked on a journey to the Holy Land to lead a pilgrimage. Each of us brothers prepared two reflections to give at designated sites during our two week journey. I was assigned to give my first meditation at ‘The Shepherd’s Field,’ in the countryside just outside of Bethlehem where tradition says the shepherds would have encountered the great angelic hosts proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ birth. My second meditation I gave at the teardrop-shaped church on the Mount of Olives called ‘Dominus Flevit,’ which is Latin for “The Lord wept.” It was here that I could begin to piece together in my mind the scene we celebrated at the beginning of this morning’s liturgy.
It is the supreme mystery of our Christian faith we are about to witness this week. Make no mistake about it. The events of Holy Week and Easter are not merely annual reenactments of the tragic events of the life of an important historical personage. This is spiritual mystery on its deepest and most cosmic scale. – Br. Eldridge Pendleton, SSJE (1940-2015)
On Palm Sunday, we begin the journey to Calvary that we will live out across the next week. We are invited to join the crowd in shouting "Hosanna" and "Crucify." And we are invited to accompany our Lord in the dramatic events of his final days.
How will you journey alongside Jesus this week?
- "The Weight of the Cross" – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
On Palm Sunday in the midst of the pandemic, Br. Geoffrey Tristram invites us to be guided by our thirst, trusting that God will meet us here.
- "Lovely Be" – Br. Luke Ditewig
On Palm Sunday, Br. Luke Ditewig sings a song of love unknown, our Savior’s love—to you, to me.
- "Exceeding Expectations" – Br. Jim Woodrum
The story of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem invites us to investigate our own expectations as a way of drawing into a deeper understanding of God.
- "Why?" – Br. David Vyrhof
Why must God’s Servant enter into the darkest rhythms of the human condition? Perhaps it’s the only way they can be challenged and undone, once and for all.
- "Singing Hosanna, Screaming Crucify" – Br. James Koester
Palm Sunday is a chance to discover once more all that is within us, both light and dark, both good and evil.
- "Steal Away" – Br. Tom Shaw
Letting the power of Jesus' humility, self-sacrifice, and surrender soak into us during Holy Week gives us the power to stand on the edge of glory every day.
To listen to the reading of the Passion According to Saint Luke, click here or on the player above. The Passion is read by Seth Woody and Waylon Whitley, two of the Monastery interns.
What is it that makes you vulnerable? In our lifetimes, we don’t lose our spiritual vulnerability. We wouldn’t want to lose it. How we come to know God, how God breaks through to us, is probably through something that is broken in our lives.
– Br. Curtis Almquist
Society of Saint John the Evangelist
Video not displaying? Click here to view: http://youtu.be/0IICHyeFetM
Question for Reflection:
How will you share your vulnerability with Jesus today?