May 28, 2024

A Different Palm Sunday

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is not a news a story. With all that is going on in our world today, what follows are few thoughts from someone that is imperfect and making that journey through faith with brokenness and heartache just like everyone else. In what seems like another life time ago, I used to write a faith column. Recently, I have been compelled to write along those lines again. I hope that you may be blessed in some way.

Palm Sunday, the day Christians around the world recall the entry of Jesus of Nazareth into Jerusalem while riding on a donkey to the cheers of “Hosanna” and palm branches laid in his path. Crowds cheered Jesus as he entered the city. Today there are no crowds. There are no gatherings larger than 10 according to health department orders and recommendations. How very different from that first Palm Sunday.

While the faithful remain at home, the clergy is trying to provide leadership, guidance and that connectivity that comes from being part of a congregation. It is stressful enough to be a pastor and Holy Week is typically an exhausting endeavor as it is, now add in technology, social distancing and added concern for parishioners along with everything else. It isn’t the typical Palm Sunday for Christians. It isn’t a typical Holy Week.

If you attend Palm Sunday and skip through to Sunrise Service or straight to Easter Sunday Service, you are missing some big parts of Holy Week. Americans typically do not like the inconvenient parts of life. We look for ways to speed everything up. We want it and we want it now. Suddenly everything has changed. We have to wait. We have to slow down. We have, quite frankly, to be uncomfortable. We aren’t used to that on a large scale. We are being asked to go against our tendencies and step into something different and even scary. We are being asked to do things we just don’t want to do. All of this has me thinking about Palm Sunday, Holy Week and everything that Jesus, his disciples and his mother, Mary, went through.

Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday recalls the institution of the Last Supper. It is the retelling of the importance of Holy Communion or the Eucharist. It is the remembering of Jesus serving the disciples through washing their feet. It is also the story of the betrayal of Jesus and leading into the agony he faced in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is easy to skip past the uncomfortable parts and go straight for victory on Easter Sunday, but you can’t get to Sunday without the sacrifice of Good Friday first.

In several service variations of different denominations, as the story is told of Jesus going through the agony of Good Friday, the sanctuary is stripped. Various items are taken away including flowers and items that typically are just taken for granted in most churches. Black cloth may even be draped over crosses or other places in the sanctuary. You are left at the end of the service with very little in the sanctuary. It is stark and dark. All the while scriptures are read describing how Jesus goes through his suffering with a brutal whipping followed by the crucifixion and finally being laid in the tomb. Typically, you are asked to leave in silence in remembrance of the silence of the tomb. If you have experienced such as service, you can understand how different it makes you feel. You are uncomfortable. It goes against everything you typically feel in church. You are left with a quietness and sense of loss.

Here we are Holy Week 2020. This is Palm Sunday and we are already feeling something uncomfortable and different. We don’t have that palm branch to make into a little cross. We don’t have the Easter Egg hunts and other traditions with family and friends. We are left with a quietness that has fallen across many parts of America. We have a sense of loss as we move through this week. Loss for the traditions we hold dear as believers and loss because everyday the numbers continue to rise from the virus we don’t want to have to keep talking about. Some have experienced a loss of a loved one and instead of being able to have family and friends close to help with that grieving process, they are dealing with it without the typical funeral traditions and customs. We are uncomfortable. We just want this to end and go back to normal.

In all of this, I have to think what Mary, the Mother of Jesus, felt. She watched her son being taken into custody, severely beaten, made to carry his own cross, stumbling along the way and finally being nailed to that cross and lifted up for all to see his agonizing death. She watched helpless as he suffered. She watched as he was mocked. She watched as he died. She watched as he was taken down and laid in a tomb. Whether you are a parent or not, consider any of your loved ones having to go through something like that and having to just watch it unfold. There was nothing she could have done to turn the Roman soldiers from doing their appointed task. Mary just had to watch. When I consider that, my circumstances seem trivial in comparison.

So here we are, Palm Sunday and Holy Week in a world so turned upside down, or is it? If you believe in Christianity, then you must believe that there is above all, hope. We are not lost. We are not alone. We are not forgotten. We may not be comfortable or happy in this moment, but there are other days ahead. Easter Sunday is coming and while the darkness of Good Friday looms, the hope of Good Friday and the resurrection on Easter Sunday are still waiting for us to grab hold of. We must hold that hope most dear especially in this season of sickness and distancing. Brighter days will come again, but the joy within us as believers is not meant to be built on superficial expectations and circumstances. It is supposed to built on God’s Word. While the world around us may seem so shaken, so unstable with each passing day, remember there is hope. We are supposed to be the people of Hope. Maybe during this time we endure and mature in faith. Perhaps these circumstances out of our control may become a time of spiritual growth and renewal. Maybe we need to be still and listen for what lessons may be learned.

I pray that you and yours are well, that this week you may rest in wellness, peace, love and particularly hope. I leave you with these words…

Psalm 62:5-6 New International Version (NIV)

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.