I have been pondering this week what would it look like if Jesus’ procession had taken place today, right here in Essex? Poet Ann Weems suggested that we might buy balloons and mark out a parade route … perhaps right in downtown … we could get all different colored balloons and wave them as Jesus passed by… maybe shouting “Yeah!” in place of “Hosanna.” If Jesus came to Essex, perhaps we would spend hours making homemade signs with brightly-colored markers that read things like: “Welcome to town Jesus!” or “Help Us Jesus”.
And as Jesus passed by, perhaps actually on a donkey … or maybe just forgoing transportation all together and walking down the middle of the street with balloons bobbing on either side. And as Jesus walked, Jesus would wave to us and bless us … and we would follow and follow and follow, dancing and frolicking, celebrating and shouting right there on the street.
Yeah! Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in God’s holy name!
What a Festival of Faith it would be. And when the parade was over, streamers lying on the streets, perhaps we would go home with our balloons, and look forward to the Easter celebration the following Sunday.
But, what about Holy Week?
The days are lengthening. Daffodils are peaking their leaves up outside my kitchen window.
Yet, somehow the reality of Holy Week has been seeping into my mind all week …
The reality that Jesus had this beautiful procession … and then, and then, a mess follows.
Jesus has this colorful, joyful parade filled with children and strangers, with those who yearned to know him and those who had come to know him intimately. And after this parade, perhaps Jesus would invites his friends to the river, inviting them down the boat launch into the water. And after each person got their feet wet, Jesus would crouch down, towel in hand, offering to clean each person’s foot. As each wet, muddy feet was picked up, Jesus would carefully wipe it. Jesus cleaned the feet even though they belonged to the very people who would betray, abandon and deny him.
Perhaps, after the physicality of the foot washing, Jesus would go out to eat with everyone at the Gris, crowded around a large table. After the sun set, the sky would darken over the river. Feeling the mounting tension of the hour, Jesus might walk to the pier with three of his friends … looking up to see the midnight black sky and the waning moon, with no light to guide his footsteps. Jesus might pause by the grass in front of the Connecticut River Museum, turning to his friends and saying, “I know it’s getting late but my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow … please stay awake while I pray.”
Perhaps Jesus would sit on a bench on the shoreline, putting his head into his hands as the sweat runs down his face in big tear-like droplets, the balloons and streamers seeming like a distant memory.
As Jesus sat there, he would cry out, “Abba! Take his cup of suffering away from me.”
His soul troubled, Jesus would pray and pray and pray. The water lapping at the break wall, the wind blowing by and, before he knew it, an hour has passed.
Suddenly, Jesus would straightened up from the bench and look around to find his friends.
Had they left? He couldn’t see them but suddenly makes out their outlines on the ground. They had fallen asleep on the wet, dewy grass. Couldn’t they support him in his most anguished hour?
Jesus shook them awake and asked them to keep watch again but, again and again, they fell asleep.
And so begins the story of Holy Week. Jesus’ friends fall asleep when he needs them most.
Judas betrays him.
Peter denies him.
His friends abandon him.
The crowds, so joyous before, turn on him and shout, “Crucify him, crucify him!” A crown of thorns is placed on Jesus’ head and passersby shouted,
“For God’s sake, save yourself.”
I feel a sense of unease as I go through this story. Maybe it’s because I can’t help but wonder if I would behave any different than the people in the story.
What would we do, I wonder, if we were Peter and the local leaders came and took our loved one away and we were afraid that they would be killed us too? When we were questioned by a stranger, would we really say anything different that than, I’ve never met the guy, I don’t know Jesus? When we felt angry or bitter or jealous, would we too yell “crucify him”? Would we too fall asleep if Jesus asked me to pull an all-nighter?
These aren’t exactly the questions that make me want to breakout my palm and shout, “Hosanna in the highest.” Instead they are the kind of questions that make me want to go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter.
Yet, if I did that, I would miss out on the incredibleness and grace of Jesus’ response. In response to betrayal and abandonment, Jesus cries out from the cross, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” Jesus dies on the cross, saying, “Even now, I love you. I forgive you. You are a child of God created tenderly by the Holy One itself. Nothing – not denial or betrayal, not insults or suffering – will separate you from the heart of God.”
In the face of evil, Jesus forgives. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry at that response because it is so radically different than what I would expect. What Jesus’ words teach us is that, even from the cross, the Holy One welcomes us into relationship.
“Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”
Jesus’ forgiveness makes me think of my daffodils … which suffered through a snowfall yesterday. Afterward, I didn’t know if I would still be able to see them but, when I checked on them, there they were poking their leaves out in defiant perseverance. Even it can feel like winter is never going to end, the daffodils gave me a glimpse of what is to come even if it is not yet here – a world of new life and beauty and lush grass.
I wonder if that is how it is with Palm Sunday. The world can feel so broken at times. And yet even in the places of deep suffering, God’s love bursts through.
In places of foot washings and love and service.
In places of forgiveness and crosses and palms.
Maybe that’s why, if we were in Jesus’ procession, we would still dance and wave balloons and make brightly-colored posters, because – even in the events of Holy Week – love and light, forgiveness and healing, reconciliation and relationship defiantly poke through, like green shoots bursting through the cold ground … a light shines stubbornly in the darkness and nothing can overcome it. God’s love blazes like a beacon from the cross shining into every crevice and nook, illuminating the truth that … violence will not win … death will not win … hatred will not win … greed will not win … jealousy will not win.
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
In the end, tenderness and love and mercy remain. Like a young shoot bursting through the ground, even if we can’t see it yet, even if we can’t feel it yet, new life is a-foot. In you. In me. In all of creation.
So come, grab your palms, take to the streets, dance and frolic and join in shouting, “Hosanna! Yeah! Blessed is the One who comes in God’s holy name.”