Monday, March 21, 2016

Palms, Precipice, Passion

Luke 19: 28-40

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.  If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’”  So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them.  As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”  They said, “The Lord needs it.”  Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.  As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.  As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”  He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

In 2008 it was quite a joyful day in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  It was a hot and sunny afternoon.  At 2:00 pm we gathered on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives at the Church of Bethphage near ancient Bethany. There was a blessing of the palms and then the processional of people began.  There were large palm branches, at least seven feet long and short ones and palms that were folded into elaborate crosses, we each were holding a palm or an olive branch to wave high in the air.

At the beginning of the procession were flags from several Palestinian boy and Girl Scout troops leading the way followed by monks and priests and choirboys and seminarians and people.  Hundreds of them maybe even thousands.  And as we processed we sang because there was so much joy for this day.  We sang our songs in different languages from all over the world, sometimes they converged and sometimes not.  It really didn’t matter; we were all headed to the same place.  Jerusalem.  On Palm Sunday.

When we reached the summit we walked in line along the narrow street on the ridge of the Mount, before we funneled our way through an alleyway.  All I could see in front of me were lines of people perhaps 8 or 10 abreast waving their palms and all I could see behind me were lines of people perhaps 8 or 10 abreast, also waving their palms.  People were not complaining, kind, and full of happiness.  

I looked up and around while I waited patiently to begin the descent.  The sky was a brilliant robin’s egg blue, nary a cloud.  The pale limestone’s of the very old buildings and souks were hardly visible because of the people but you could still have a glimpse of one or two every now and then.  The keffiyah-headed merchants stood outside to sell water to a hot and thirsty crowd. 

And to the west was Jerusalem, beautiful bustling Jerusalem with glorious Jerusalem stone glimmering in the sunlight.  And there in front of us was the ancient walled Old City.  No mistaking it with the iconic Dome of the Rock.  There was no thought of impending doom or betrayal or death or danger. That didn’t even cross our minds; we were part of a happy parade even though the main donkey and its rider were physically absent.  Although not in our hearts.

We marched down into the Kidron Valley and up again to the Lion's Gate at the Old City and we entered. Once inside the Old City we processed into the courtyard of St. Ann's where there was a group singing 'Hosanna' in a very catchy Middle Eastern tune accompanied by the djembe drums.  It was a long afternoon but so very joyful and satisfying.  I ate a little, absorbed the wild diversity of the crowd and then I headed back to my apartment knowing that holy week was about to begin, but not feeling it yet because of the delightful and satisfying feeling of the day.

I think that this could have been very much the same feel that the people who followed Jesus felt on that day as they laid down their cloaks and were grabbing the branches off of the olive and palm trees to wave.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna!  Save us Lord!  You see they recognized him as the Messiah, the one who could save them, the one who could bring about peace and equity to their poor and oppressed lives. 

I wonder how Jesus would have experienced that day.  I think it might have been somewhat similar.  The robin’s egg blue sky, the golden Jerusalem stone, the hot air, the merchants selling their wares and the palm and olives branches waving him onward.

I wonder what it would have been like for Jesus to be atop that donkey meandering in the crowd on the ridge of the Mount of Olives hearing the people shout Hosanna and knowing that the salvation that they were hoping for was not exactly the kind of salvation he would be offering.

I wonder if he was just intent on getting on with it, of traversing the Kidron Valley into Jerusalem for the very last time. 

I wonder if he paused on the crest of the mount, which for him would have been more like a precipice of craggy stone and thought, ‘I’m not going to do this, don’t make me do this Lord’. 

He could see from the top of the mount, the City of Gold.  He would know that in just a few short days the worst would happen to him.  That the message he had been preaching against the Roman empire of domination, God’s message of fairness and equity and love had caught up with him. He’d have his last Passover meal, be betrayed and mocked and then finally crucified. 

He was on top of the mount and was looking at his certain death.  Yet he made a decision to forge ahead.  With the crowds of supporters surrounding him he prodded the donkey to fearlessly take the first step into his future.  That’s how much he believed in the kingdom of God.  He believed that it was time for a different kingdom to rein, a kingdom of abundant peace.  He knew who and what he was facing.  And he rode on.  And the people followed and gave voice to his ministry of hope, that in the world of the Roman Empire there was a merciful God through whom they could depend.  Christ was showing them the way through difficult times.

Palm Sunday presents us with a choice as well. Will we or won’t we stand at the precipice of today and forge ahead?  Henri Nouwen reminds us, “We all have dreams about the perfect life: a life without pain, sadness, conflict, or war. The spiritual challenge is to experience glimpses of this perfect life right in the middle of our many struggles.”[i]

You know there are times in your life when all you can see before you is chaos.  These are the times when the future utterly horrifies you and you wonder how in the world are you ever going to make it.  When will the light of that proverbial tunnel ever come? You don’t even know how to begin.  Well remember Jesus.  Remember that he faced that same chaos and forged ahead.  He has shown us that we must go through the sewage of life; we must traverse that dark and long tunnel keeping the faith.   And then, like Jesus, because of Jesus prod the donkey forward because you know there is a future that is hope-filled.  Hosanna, Lord, Hosanna.

To view photos from that very special day in 2008 please click HERE

[i] Henri Nouwen, Facing Mortality.  From Daily Meditation from the Henri Nouwen Society. 2016.

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