Crisis: A Reflection on Palm Sunday

We are in a time of crisis. The toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on our health, on our healthcare systems, communities, and economies is going to be immense. We don’t know what is going to happen or when this is going to end. The old battle between faith and fear is being waged in all of us. This is a crisis.

But when I say we are in crisis, I mean it in a fuller sense of the word than just a time of danger or need. I mean it in the Greek sense of the word: a moment of truth, an inflection point, a time when something happens or a decision must be made that changes everything. And we’re already seeing signs of this bubbling up in our current situation. On the one hand, this is the greatest public mobilization since the Second World War: People are banding together (in spirit if not in physical proximity), and the groundswell of collective action and togetherness during this time has been inspiring. At the same time, those in power around the world are already mobilizing to further concentrate wealth and power in their own hands. Only time will tell which energy will prevail.

It is in this context that we encounter the story of Palm Sunday today. Even under normal circumstances, this is the strangest day of the liturgical year. It begins with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, when the people roll out the red carpet (well, their cloaks and palms) for him and hail him as the true, anointed heir of King David. But by the time the readings for the day are over, Jesus is dead, crucified as a criminal (but really, as a revolutionary — a threat to existing power). It’s important — now more than ever in our current crisis — to remember the political implications of the story of Jesus: This is first and foremost a story about the clash between earthly power and Truth. (And if you want to hear more about that, then please read last year’s Palm Sunday reflection.)

But that being said, today, I’m being drawn to a more allegorical reading of Jesus’ journey from Palms to Passion. Because, all of politics and indeed all of life, begins in the heart.

Jerusalem, as the place where God dwells, is an apt metaphor for the heart. The story of Palm Sunday can, then, be read as our experience of welcoming God into our hearts. It’s a scene that any of us who have had experiences of conversion or re-commitment can relate to: welcoming God home with tears of joy and shouts of praise and thanksgiving. “Hosanna! God save us!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” We know God is home, the rightful heir to the throne returned at last to be King (and Father and Mother and Lover and Friend). We can’t imagine anything ever separating us from God ever again. We are so happy to be back in the Light where everything is so clear, bright and beautiful, we can’t imagine ever going back to life in the darkness.

But as soon has the party dies down, things start to go off the rails. For this represents a political crisis in the city of our heart. The powers that had ruled in the King’s absence won’t be set aside so easily. At home in the shadows, they plot their comeback. All those parts of us that value our comfort over justice, glamour over beauty, and convenient lies, distraction and entertainment over truth, conspire against the King. They begin a whisper campaign to sow doubt: ‘He doesn’t care about you‘; ‘It’s either them or you’; ‘If you do things his way you’ll end up on the streets’; ‘He is naive; that’s not how the world works’; ‘It’s okay, just look away and the scary thing won’t bother you;’ ‘It is better to kill one man to save the people.’ And sooner or later, we all in our own ways retreat to the shadows, afraid to face life in the King’s light. We crucify the King again and again, choosing fear over trust, “us vs. them” over “all of us,” and our comfortable lies over uncomfortable truths.

This allegory is helpful to remember. For when we zoom back out to the political sphere where the story of Jesus played out, we see that we aren’t all that different from the petty kings, high priests, and bureaucrats who killed Jesus.

But I am convinced that the way of Jesus tells us that history doesn’t need to repeat itself. We can break the old cycles. We can choose to shine God’s light into the dark shadows of our heart. We can smash the idols of wealth, comfort, and glamour.

In other words, we can repent.

We can face up to hard truths about ourself and the world. We can choose what is good and just. We can preach release to the captives and good news to the poor; we can proclaim God’s Kingdom where the last are first, where the meek inherit the earth, and where the poor in heart are blessed. We can heal the broken-hearted and turn our grief into joy.

By God’s grace, we can do it.

By God’s grace, we must do it.

Those of us who follow the King who was crucified by the collusion of money, power, politics, and religion are called to be on the leading edge of a revolution of the heart, a revolution that has the courage to look into the darkness and say ‘Enough is enough.’ ‘This stops here.’ ‘Not today, Satan, not today.’ And we do this first in our hearts. Then we do it in our families. Then in our communities. Then in our world. There is no other way.

These are scary times. It is tempting to turn away and retreat back to where we feel safe. But scary times require courage. Courage doesn’t mean not being afraid; it means doing what needs to be done when we are afraid. And so now more than ever we need to hold on to the courage of our convictions, the courage of our faith in the humble, loving, healing way of Jesus.

May we all truly embrace the King today and this week, spreading out our coats and palms to welcome him home in our hearts. And may we all have the courage to live as true citizens of his Kingdom, choosing faith, choosing love, over fear.

Wishing you all a beautiful, challenging, healing, and whole Holy Week. Amen.

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