Palm Sunday: The Final Stretch

April 2, 2023

“Rejoice greatly, O CHILDREN of Zion!  Shout aloud, O CHILDREN of Jerusalem!  Lo, your king comes to you; Triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Zech. 9:9).

On Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus’ triumphant arrival into the city of Jerusalem, on the final stretch of his journey.  He has walked his entire life to fulfill his ministry, and now his last steps will take him to the cross.  But not yet.  First, we wave our palm branches and shout “Hosanna,” which means “Save us!,” welcoming Jesus into our spiritual journeys during this final stretch of Lent we call “Holy Week.”  We visualize Jesus on that colt—not even a donkey or a horse—as the crowds lay their cloaks before him as if he were royalty, as if he were a king, as if he were “somebody.”

But Jesus, perhaps smiling, maybe waving back, understands one basic truth throughout this charade.  No one knows who he is at all.  There, in the midst of crowds, at the height of his popularity, scores of people packed around him, he is most isolated.  No one knows who he is.  No one.

Of course, each person in the crowd believes he or she knows who Jesus is.  Each person comes with his or her own label or expectation.  To some in the crowd, Jesus is the next king, the Jewish Messiah who will topple the government of Rome and bring Jerusalem and all the country back under Israeli rule.  .  .  .  They are wrong. . . .and so they will turn on him.

To others, even his own disciples, he is the greatest Rabbi ever, the greatest prophet since Elijah, whose instructions will straighten out corruption and set all things right. . . . They are wrong. . . . and so they will betray or abandon or flee from him.

Perhaps to others waving palms, Jesus is so popular because he is the Great Magician who turns water into wine and walks on the sea and provides a banquet out of a handful of bread and fish.  They can’t wait to see what great feat he will accomplish next.  .  .  .  .But, they are wrong. . . . and so they will taunt him and spit on him.

And to still others, this man riding on a colt—not even a donkey or a horse—is a mockery of who they are.  He is a threat to their positions of power, greed, priesthood, privilege, and authority.  He is out to displace them with his group of rebel-rousers .  .  .  .They, too, are wrong. . . . and so they will frame him.

Yes, on this day of Jesus’ so-called “triumph,” he is well aware that no one really knows who he is—the sacrificial Passover Lamb, the one who has come to suffer in their place, not to usurp their places, the one who is both man and God, both terrified and resolute.  Popularity is always short-lived because to maintain popularity means never being able to be fully known, and Jesus wants, longs, to be known.  Once the crowds begin to realize that Jesus’ intention is not to become King or the greatest rabbi or a famous magician, or even a rebel, they turn on him.  Once they realize that he is nothing other than a suffering servant, useless to them, they turn on him or back away, and the rustle of the wind through all those palm branches fades to silence.  This grim reality is Palm Sunday.  The grand parade is a false and broken charade.

Having followed Jesus on the road these past six weeks and standing now in this place with palms on the table, on the final stretch of our Lenten walk, do we know who he is any better than we did the first Sunday of Lent, or last year at this time, or ten years ago?  Are we like some of those in the crowd, clutching the same set of labels and expectations of Jesus that we have hauled around all our lives because we did not take the time to get to know him better this Lent, or we did not want to make the effort to know him, or we believe we have Jesus pegged?  Who do we see passing by on the road before us this morning?   Anyone?  Or are we all simply play-acting?  Palm Sunday is a tough day because it begs us to admit that all too often we are part of that crowd who one day shouts “Hosanna” and the next day betrays or abandons or ignores Jesus. 

But the good news, and there is always good news, is that while we may not know or see Jesus, he does indeed know and see us.  He is the Christ who knows the times when we, too, have longed to be understood and accepted just as we are, in our own reality, in our own loneliness.  He knows the times we have ridden on the wave of popularity and then crashed and burned.  He knows the times we have entrusted another person with all that we are and then been turned on, betrayed, ignored, or used.  The Christ knows the times we have been friendless, as well as the times we ourselves have been less than friendly.  He sees all of us, each heart, each life, each longing, each wound, and each joy, and he loves us.  After all, he was one of us.

So here Jesus is this morning, on a colt—not even a donkey or a horse–nodding his head at each one of us, catching our eye, seeing us as we really are, better than we can even see ourselves, and he knows where this road will lead in just a short while—to an excruciating and humiliating death on a cross.  He knows some of us may one day understand the extent of his love and some of us won’t.  He knows that some of us will want to continue following him and some of us won’t.  He realizes that some of us will desire to know him even more deeply, and some of us won’t.  He knows that some of us will be changed by the entire parade and the week that follows, and some of us won’t.  And yet Jesus still rides on, on that silly colt, because the love he has is unconditional, and even if we do not know him, he knows us.  And understands.

May your Holy Week be blessed. ~ Rosemary

Photo credit: Pixabay

A Pail of Cherries

August 9, 2022

Some years back, my daughter authored a “good news” blog which, I believe, was called “Silver Linings.”  She spent hours culling different news sources in search of something positive, and, inevitably, she would indeed find an uplifting story and post it.  Her purpose was to remind her readers that good things do happen and good people do exist.  Unfortunately, she had few eager followers and fewer “likes,” so she closed the blog, which says much about how we humans prefer to spend our attention.  Her experience reminds me of Don Henley’s song, Dirty Laundry, and the oft reported notion that bad news “sells.” 

Yes, dirty laundry and bad news attract us, if today’s headlines and social media posts are any indication.  Both can become addictive which is why, I believe, so many of our great spiritual leaders urged us to seek silence and solitude in order to find solid grounding, balance, and a new vision, just as they did.  Isn’t there a part of us that craves the Light?  That wants the noise that the sky is falling, and we are falling with it, to cease? A part of us that seeks a reason to hope?  Yes. That part of us might be called our “soul” or our “heart” or our “True Self.”  And the good news is that good news does still exist.

Maia Mikhaluk is a Ukrainian citizen who lives in Kyiv.  Since the Russian invasion back in February of this year, she has posted daily on Facebook about what is going on in her beloved country.  If you use Facebook, you can find her there and follow her personal accounts.  They are not always for the faint of heart, and there are days when I honestly cannot digest the cruelty of what her people are experiencing.  Many other days, she posts about the good things that are happening, the light that shines and that keeps the Ukrainians going.  Maia writes, As much as it hurts to be a witness to the worst that humanity is capable of, we do get to also see a rise in courage, sacrificial generosity, kindness, care, and love.”  If courage, generosity, kindness, care, and love can exist in the deepest voids of war-torn Ukraine, surely they can exist where we live.  Surely, such acts are around us, if we have eyes to see, and are within us, if we have the courage to witness.

A couple weeks back, Maia described a sacrificial kindness.  She and some fellow church members packed food baskets to distribute to those in villages that had been ransacked by Russian soldiers.  In one such village, as Maia’s team was leaving, a woman named Anna rushed up to the truck with a pail of freshly picked cherries, giving away her cherries not out of abundance but out of gratitude.  One of the team members accepted the cherries and made cherry pirozhki, fruit-filled buns, which she then took to the church the next Sunday.  Those who had shared food with Anna and others like her now shared the gift that Anna had given, without ever knowing each other.  Again, as Maia writes, “That’s how we survive this war—by not allowing our hearts to be consumed by hatred for the enemy, but rather filling our hearts with concern and kindness towards each other.  This is how the light overcomes darkness.”

A pail of cherries.  A plate of pirozhki.  Intertwined lives.  A light shining in the darkness.  The philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952) wrote, “The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms . . . ”  We each have a choice as to what we attend to, how we respond, and how we ground our souls, hearts, and True Selves. We each have an opportunity, a calling, to share the Light, no matter how inconsequential it may seem.

With love and light ~  Rosemary

Pail of Cherries

Across the world,
war uncurls as one country eats another
like a snake swallowing its own tail
like a serpent trailing itself through a saffron
and indigo garden, devouring anything
everything in sight with
unceasing appetite.

Across the world,
in ruined villages and gutted towns,
men and women stumble to their gardens
in futile search
of what they had planted–of what
they had dreamed.
They lift empty hands in prayer
in despair
for a world snarled in black storm,
inky palls, the uncertainty of gray.

Across the world,
where emptiness gnaws,
a stranger, a woman,
appears through the dust
that circles a hungry village, a pail of
bright cherries in her hands,
hands that have just gathered
this offering of bright red cherries
from bomb-singed branches, cherries
to be shared, bright cherries
in a pail, a spot of crimson, glowing
against the gray scorched
soil in a shadowed world
where, for a moment, the snake
pauses and blinks.

© Rosemary McMahan