Palm Sunday in Uncertain Times

As members of St. John’s spoke to one another over the past couple of weeks, one question rose repeatedly: What about Holy Week? These liturgies are so much about physical action: waving palms, washing feet, stripping altars, unearthing alleluias. How can it be Holy Week when we’re not together? How will it be Easter from our desks instead of our pews? 

Our questions and lament have me thinking about the first Palm Sunday, the gospel story of Jesus entering Jerusalem. Crowds gathered, Jesus processed, followers cheered. We’ve practiced our liturgy so long that it’s easy to forget the turbulence of the scene. We remember the celebration and expectation, but not the intensity or confusion. There wasn’t an established liturgy for the first Palm Sunday. Certainly, nothing had been approved by religious authorities.

When the followers of Jesus watched him enter Jerusalem, they didn’t know what would happen next. They thought he would restore their nation. They didn’t know the victory they were proclaiming wasn’t going to look like they imagined. Our future, and our celebrations, aren’t going to look like we imagined, either. Graduations will be postponed, weddings and funerals pared down, and reunions cancelled. God will still be with us in every step and every stage.

We cannot share the same Holy Week spaces that we have in years past. I will not grasp your hand to pass peace, and you are not in danger of being whapped with a child’s palm frond. But we can place our hands on other things that connect us to Holy Week: growing plants, soap and water (surely we notice the washing, washing, washing we’re doing and connect it to Maundy Thursday). We have an incarnate faith, and a communal one. We can make a point to touch those things around us that connect us to our story, and we can connect with one another. We can’t do both at the same time, but we will experience holiness in new ways this year. 

And having said all that, there’s room for grief, too.
Jesus was not the kind of king those palm-wavers thought they were getting. They lived in Roman-Occupied Jerusalem, and thought that they would be delivered from their difficult lived circumstances. They weren’t. Jesus’s kingdom had begun, and also wasn’t yet. That’s where we are. In the beginning, and the not yet. The disciples obeyed, they served Jesus, but they did not have a clear picture of what was happening, or what would happen next. So many people are serving God and neighbor at St. John’s right now, and I think it’s safe to say that we do not have a clear picture of what is unfolding next. 

This Holy Week will be sacred. It will be unforgettable.We are in it together. As Frederick Buechner imagines God saying: 
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you.”

Here are a few small things you can reach for to help you stay in Holy Week:
  • Gather a few stems and leaves. Carry them on your walk around the neighborhood. Celebrate the here-yet-still-anticipated reign of Christ.
  • Do you remember how to cut paper snowflakes? Cut small palm fronds, and keep them where you’ll see them: on your desk, in your window, on your table. Remember that wherever we are, we are herald’s of God’s kingdom.

Blessings to all of you this Holy Week.