Palm Sunday, Year A
Matthew 21:1-11 † Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
I suspect it is good for us to remember, especially on a day like today, that where we start is not where we end. It’s true of this infection curve that has become so ubiquitous to our Facebook feeds and news casts; it’s true of the limitations we are being asked to put on our movements and interactions; and it is true of this story of a parade and the tightly-packed cheering, chanting, dizzy crowd that may cause you to squirm as much as it does me, alert and militant in our commitment to social distancing and to the prevention of spreading this infection to our neighbors and loved ones.
But here we are at the beginning of a Holy Week that is going to get even more crowded and super-heated than it already is here among the palms and coats and shouts, before we find ourselves just a week from now amidst the quiet of dawn and a garden and a tomb that is empty of even its one quarantined resident.
So we do well to remember, and we even take comfort in the reminder that what is will not always be, and even more, that we can imagine a better and brighter season of wonderment at the power of time and of the Spirit to heal and renew. We can imagine a time together again, free from the anxiety that currently weighs us down and frays us at the edges. We can imagine a future full of wide margins of grace and mercy and maybe even justice and peace.
Which begs the question: Where are you this morning—or whatever time it is that you’re joining me—in this extraordinary moment? Have you taken your temperature recently? Do you find yourself full of patience and overflowing with kindness, or are you stuck in a traffic-jam of conflict that, upon further review, may not be worth the energy you’ve given it? Are you gasping for breath, fevered by fomites of worry that have made you more of a patient and less of a care provider than you would like to be?
If so, I’ll say this first of all. Welcome to the club—or to the human race. And secondly, knowing this “parade” is far from over, we may do well to heed the good doctor’s orders to submit ourselves to a bit of self-examination and a good dose of sleep and rest and generous self-care.
There was news Friday morning that broke open my heart.[i] King County is beginning to buy up hotel rooms for some of our neighbors living in shelters? “What’s the first thing you do,” the article begins, “when you’ve been living in a shelter for months or years, and suddenly you get your own hotel room?”
The one that caught me was the guy who said he’s been taking a bubble bath twice a day. Now, of course there are considerations here about how to best provide the support, services, and safety some people need. It’s complicated. But the idea—to provide not just minimal, humble shelter to some of our most vulnerable, but that they would be lavished with comfort and kindness raises questions for us about what kind of a society we wish to be on the other side of this story.
In a blog piece this week, Tony Robinson, the pastor and church consultant noted this from a doctoral candidate at Union Seminary:
“The country’s idols are being exposed,” said Ekemini Uwan, a public theologian and co-host of the podcast Truth’s Table. Referring to suggestions by some pundits and politicians who have suggested older Americans might be willing to sacrifice their lives to save jobs, she added,
Or another example: One of the hardest hit segments is our arts community. The Seattle Symphony, the opera, our small art houses are facing impossible economic challenges. Employees are being furloughed or taking deep paycheck cuts that are not sustainable. How important do we consider these institutions and their service to our greater humanity? Will we reconsider how we, as a broader society, support these institutions or will we let them fade away?
What are those values that hold us in the most challenging times, and what forces move us away from them when we make our way through the ordinary?
These stories and this moment offer to us the possibility of something deeper than just learning how best to keep ourselves from disease—as important as that is. The invitation of the gospel is for us to consider not just what makes for health, but what makes for life. This moment presents us with the opportunity to embrace life at its full. Will we embrace the chance, I wonder? Will we allow ourselves the space to learn?
We’ve talked in the past about how Lent is a pregnancy of sorts—a season of waiting and wonder as new Easter life forms in us. It is no accident the season unfolds as life forces that have been at work under ground, growing deep roots, invisible to us, now begin to be visible in bursts of new life and possibility. So it is with the seasons of our own lives and God in them.
This Lent, this pregnancy is surely different. The Lentiest Lent we’ve ever lented, someone said. Who knew we’d be giving up being together for Lent! If Lent is a pregnancy, what do you do when the test isn’t available, and neither is the due date? Amidst the uncertainty that goes right at our desire to control and predict, how will we deal with all this time we have and none of the control? What will we do with it? Will we worry or wonder? What will we learn? How will we be different after this pandemic than in the “before times”?
A recent moment of clarity for me came in a rush of emotion. I suppose that is one of he most reliable indications for me that I’m approaching something close to truth. It came as I spoke of my own questions around what it means for me to be a pastor and for us to be the church in this time. This is, of course, a huge question that can never be fully nailed down. But in this time in which our medical and scientific communities rightly take on a larger role and a bigger voice, and our governments call us to action on behalf of society, I’ve wondered what our work is.
Surely it is to speak of our solidarity with the voiceless and suffering ones. Surely it is to uncover the systems of violence and domination that misshape our life together and lead to the slaughter of innocents that this Holy Week will examine. Surely it is to uncover our own brokenness and call us back to the true source of our strength and our life. It is all that and more.
And it was that more that caught me. It was the work of reflection and examination that our story and our life together in it invites us to. It is that joyful, dizzy parade of movement that takes us beyond and outside of the claims and the confines of the realms of governments and science and self-autonomy to the wonder of the Holy and the realm, the Kingdom, the governance of God that encompasses it all and gives it and us its life and meaning and redemption.
Thanks be to God.
[i] Scott Greenstone. “To prevent coronavirus spread at shelters, King County will move nearly 400 homeless people into hotels.” Seattle Times (April 3, 2020 edition). Retrieved on April 3, 2020 from: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/homeless/to-prevent-coronavirus-spread-at-shelters-king-county-will-move-nearly-400-homeless-people-into-hotels/.
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