A Part of the Crowd

What does it mean to celebrate Palm Sunday in the time of covid 19 and shelter in place? Our Hosanna has a sharper focus. Being a part of the crowd is bit more cosmic. And our journey with Jesus is more tender.

On Palm Sunday, we cry together: Hosanna, which literally beseeches “God save us”! In a different year, we would have waving palms in the aisles, giving high fives, and offering hugs in greetings. This year our processionals and our gatherings look different. We are still praying Hosanna! God save us. We had palms outside the church for people to pick up. If you did not pick any up yet and would like some, come by and get them or comment below for us to drop them at your front step. Display the palms on your front door or in your window. You can also use greens where you are as the first followers did. Or color palm branches. We are worshipping from our homes in order to keep one another safe and healthy. Thank you for living out your care for your siblings in Christ by staying home, unless essential and then, wear masks when you must go to the grocery store or pharmacy (show mask). This is why we continue with our livestream worship even in holy week and Easter, when some have asked about drive-in church. It is not safe enough, even with masks and gloves on.

Like the earliest followers, we pray every time we see the new: Hosanna -God Save us! And our prayers join together in a crowd. It is jarring right now to think of being in a crowd. On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem with those who adored him, and those who were preparing for his death. There were those who were curious, and those who were confused. They gathered together in the same crowd. Peter and Judas, Mary Magdalene and Joanna all part of the same crowd. This year expand your thinking, the crowd is beyond our congregation. Our crowd, this year has grown more cosmic. Jesus calls to remember our focus is on the world, not the individual gathering. What affects one of us, affects us all. Our virtual crowds today are filed with those of us who pray Hosanna! As well as those of us in need of forgiveness.

As our time of focused study on the Lord’s prayer is coming towards the apex with Holy Week, we focus on forgiving others as God has forgiven us. For many of us, this time spent with Jesus in his prayers has been even more tender in these days of quarantine.
Jesus teaches that forgiveness is not a ‘choose your own adventure’, in which we choose who to forgive and how. Rather forgiveness is imperative for all followers to engage in. This does not make it easy. There is a story from the earliest days of the church, when many disciples lived in the desert to follow Jesus. Abba Anthony was a desert father. Some faithful followers came to him looking for answers. They asked him, “please share with us some word, by which we might be saved.”

Anthony said, “you have the scriptures, that should be enough.”
They pressed him saying, “we want to hear from you”. And so, he said, “you have heard the Lord say, If a man strikes you on the left check, show him the right.”
They said, “we cannot do this.”
Anthony continued, “if you cannot turn the check, at least take it patiently on one.”
“We cannot do that either,” they replied.
He said, “if you cannot do even that, at least do not go striking them more than you would want them to strike you.”
They replied, “we cannot do this either.” Anthony instructed them, “Go, then and cook some food for these men, they are very weak.”
They demurred. Finally, he said to them, “If you cannot do even this, how can I help you? All I can do is pray(1) .

Throughout the last month, many of us know people affected firsthand by the COVID19 virus and have turned to God in prayer: praying for healing, employment, guidance, relief, and wisdom. As we walk through our own holy weeks, what do the readings have to say to us? It would be easy to rush through this, skip through the week with our eyes fixed on what we celebrate next Sunday. To sit dutifully through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and prayer vigil knowing that the real deal is on Easter morning. Because we already know the ending. We know that Palm Sunday and all of Holy week are merely the setup to the triumphant Resurrection on Easter. We know that Jesus will defeat evil, injustice, and other forms of death, not with the military might of kings but with the new life of the Resurrection. This is yet to come. Right now, we are in the passion, before the resurrection.

Too often in life, however, we don’t have a happy ending to hold during challenging times. In the midst of crisis and chaos, how often do we get to say, “But in just a week, everything will be great!” The blessing of the church calendar is that we live through the liturgical seasons, year after year, delving deeper and bringing more experience from our lives into the meaning of the stories.

But it’s also a liability—that we might skip through the tragedy to get to the happy ending. Skip the flight into Egypt to get to Jesus in the Temple. Skip the illness to get to the healing. Skip the hungry to get to the loaves and fishes. Skip the martyrdom to get to the sainthood. Skip the Crucifixion to get to the Resurrection. Skip the social distancing to get the end of pandemic, if only we could.
The journey with Jesus is more tender as we pull out big moments in this story, draw near to them, learn about them, live them, identify with them, sit with them. We see a donkey and a colt, regular livestock given for the glory of God. We see palms, stripped from the plants grown naturally all around them, and waved to the glory of God. We see cloaks, spread out on the dusty road, taken off of normal people’s backs and offered to the glory of God. These are every day, mundane, secular, and worldly items, made holy in their offering to the Messiah. In their offering, they have been made sacramental.

Putting ourselves into the story can touch us to our core. We are a part of the crowd and need to offer forgiveness as much as we ask for it. The story of Christmas 1914 has become familiar in our popular imagination with movies and stories telling the story of the Christmas Truce five months into World War One. Unofficial ceasefires as men sung Christmas carols and played soccer, buried their dead and shook hands in greeting. Less well known is the Christmas 1918. This was weeks after the Armistice in November of 1918 and the Allies were asked to consider relaxing the blockade to allowed for a shipment of food for the German people, even though many were still programed to think of Germans as enemies.

President Woodrow Wilson sent a letter to the other top Allied leaders on Dec. 15, asking them to relax the blockade, and to allow neutral countries to trade food to enemies. At the same time, the future president Herbert Hoover, then in charge of American food aid to Europe, devised a scheme to export pork to Scandinavia. For a while, it looked as those German citizens would be fed for Christmas.
However, fear took over. The blockade on foodstuffs was not lifted until July 12, 1919, after Germany had signed the Versailles treaty. Many Germans died that winter. Why were the same people willing to offer forgiveness one Christmas at war and not another?
When we forgive others, we do not forget their previous actions; rather we offer a different ending to the story for all parties involved. Peace and reconciliation. If the Christmas 1914 story reminds us about the importance of choosing to see past our momentary hatreds to our shared humanity, the Christmas 1918 story reminds us how hard that can be, especially when it requires forgiveness, which can be life.

As we join in a more dispersed crowd, we pray Hosanna, God save us, and in the words that Jesus taught us to pray we ask for our sins to be forgiven as we forgive others.

Will you join me as we pray together the Lord’s prayer… Our Father,

(1) Merton, Thomas. The Wisdom of the Desert. (New York: New Directions, 1960), 75-76.

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 5:4-9a
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!

Ah, you who join house to house,
who add field to field,
until there is room for no one but you,
and you are left to live alone
in the midst of the land!
The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing:
Surely many houses shall be desolate,
large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 6:14
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 21:12-21
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.”
The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise for yourself’?”
He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there. In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” Jesus answered them, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done.

Meditations For Your Week

Sunday, April 5 ~ Saturday, April 11, 2020

Sunday: “The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’” Matthew 21: 9. Even from home, we can sing. Let us sing out Jesus’ praises. Let God’s praises be on your lips!

Monday: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’” Matthew 22: 37-40. Even in the holiest weeks, Jesus calls us love one another. Where are you acting out your love?

Tuesday: “When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.’” Matthew 26: 1-2. Jesus prepared his disciples for what was coming, even when they could not put together all the pieces. Prayerfully listen to what Jesus is preparing you for.

Wednesday: “By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’” Matthew 26: 12-13. Where is Jesus inviting you to have your life proclaim the good news of resurrection?

Thursday: “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’” Matthew 26: 36. As we remember Jesus’ Last Supper on this Holy Thursday, let us pray with Jesus for all those who face their own holy weeks.

Friday: “Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.” Matthew 27: 50-51. Jesus’ death changes everything. Give thanks to Jesus today.

Saturday: “So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.” Matthew 27: 59-61. Wait today on Jesus. Easter is coming! Resurrection is coming.