Scripture: Luke 19:28-40
Let us pray:
Now, O Lord, calm us into quietness. On this Palm Sunday, help us to listen to your word and apply it to our lives; encouraging others among us in their life journey, reaching out with the love of God, the fellowship of this church, and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For we need you, Lord, we need you this week even as much as you long for us to understand your passion, your intimate love for us. Amen.
Internationally renowned priest and author, respected professor and beloved pastor Henri Nouwen went to visit a sick friend. His friend was struggling with the knowledge that he wasn’t going to get better, that cancer finally caught up with him, and his weakened body could no longer do the things he wanted it to do. Nouwen’s friend said to him,
My whole way of thinking about myself is in terms of action, in terms of doing things for people. My life is valuable because I’ve been able to do many things for many people. And suddenly, here I am, passive, and I can’t do anything anymore. Help me think about this situation in a new way. Help me to think about my not being able to do anything anymore so I won’t be driven to despair. Help me to understand what it means that now all sorts of people are doing things to me over which I have no control.
Nouwen reflects on his friend’s request, and begins to see an analogy in Christ’s Passion during Holy Week. On Palm Sunday he rides a donkey into town; an act recognized by Rome as a supremely revolutionary move, equating himself to the very royalty of Rome. Expectations are high and crowds come out to cheer him on, even as in another part of Jerusalem Rome’s legions march into town to fortify the local garrison, just in case things get out of hand during the upcoming Passover celebration important to the Jewish population.
Gradually, as the week wears on, Christ accomplishes his ending tasks, his final teachings, prayers, and preparations. Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with his disciples, showering them with an unexpected lesson of counter-cultural love expressed by his washing the disciples’ feet. Then he instructs his disciples to likewise wash one another’s feet. “I give you a new commandment,” Jesus says. “Love one another, even as I have loved you.”
He infuses new meaning into an already powerfully symbolic Passover meal by teaching his disciples to break bread together remembering him, reminding them that he, who called himself bread of heaven is now bread broken for them. He makes a new tradition by pouring a cup after the meal symbolizing his own life blood poured out for many; asking all who would follow to remember with this cup his sacrifice.
This is a powerful time of remembrance. For our Jewish brothers and sisters in that long ago time, it wasn’t heralding a return to the Golden Age of Israel they so longed for; when they stood on their own two feet a mighty, free, and independent nation. Jesus did not come to loose them from Roman shackles of bondage, but to incarnate instead a deeper spiritual reality that forever looses the bonds of sin wrapped around hurting hearts. Jesus came that we might have new life and have it abundantly. For them and for us, Jesus came setting us all to be free agents of God’s love no matter what political power currently governs the land in which we live. How does he do that, exactly? Nouwen writes,
“The Son of Man,” Jesus says, “must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15). He is lifted up as a passive victim, so the cross is a sign of desolation. And he is lifted up in glory, so the cross becomes at the same time a sign of hope. Suddenly we realize that the glory of God, the divinity of God, bursts through in Jesus’ passion precisely when he is most victimized. So new life becomes visible not only in the resurrection on the third day, but already in the passion, in the being handed over. Why? Because it is in the passion that the fullness of God’s love shines through. It is supremely a waiting love, a love that does not seek control.
But what of this love that surpasses my understanding? Is life abundant simply that, some sort of coming to grips with and understanding love at a deeper level?
French mystic Simone Weil once wrote,
God created through love and for love. God did not create anything except love itself, and the means to love. … Those who persevere in love hear this note from the very lowest depths into which affliction has thrust them. From that moment they can no longer have any doubt.
I find it hard to speak of the triumph of Palm Sunday knowing what lies ahead this week; but also because we are sharing, each in our own way, multiple griefs in this season together. But let me tell you what I have discovered in myself during this time. This grief, even as removed from this community as I am most of the week, has now been able to teach me something. This grief of letting go parallels the journey Christ makes through Holy Week. I think I have discovered that Jesus’ passion is a mirror of our own. Any time we confront grief in the loss of a loved one; or any time we find a job we thought we would love instead becoming a burden. In our pain is Christ’s passion, in our grief is his pain. Yes, we will grieve for some time, moving through all its stages as we adjust to life’s new situations – without Buggs, without Diana; but in this I hope I can still offer the perspective that Jesus walks with us in all our pain and passion, all our highs and lows, drawing us ever closer to the bosom of God.
And in that, I pray all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us. Amen? Let it be so.
 Henri Nouwen, in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003), 179-180.
 Ibid., 183-184.
 Simone Weil, from “the Love of God and Affliction,” quoted in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003), 214.
Questions for Reflection
The events of Holy Week make up the central story of our faith. Can we see the suffering of others in our world in the passion of Jesus? What are some ways that the daughters and sons of humanity are crucified today? How are we called to respond?
Household Prayer: Morning
God, as I enter into this new day, I ask that you keep me mindful of the profound nature of this Holy Week. Help me to go beyond the joyful parade of the palms and to follow Jesus into the suffering of this world, mindful that he was obedient to you, even to the cross. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Thank you, God, for the gift of this day. If I remembered today my betrayals of you, remind me now of your steadfast love for me, as I give this day into your hands and rest in peace. Amen.