Palm Sunday is usually a day that begins with a parade- we start in our church parking lots, or somewhere else grand and everyone processes into the church singing a rag tag version of “All Glory Laud and Honor”. It’s festive and triumphant, we all wave our palms and sing loudly. By the end of the service, we have heard the passion and the mood is more somber, we are entering into Holy Week together. We begin the week prepared for what is to come.
Last week on one of my walks I thought about how the original Holy Week must have been a giant emotional swerve for Jesus’ friends. Imagine their week, beginning with the parade into Jerusalem. Yes, it was rather unusual and in contrast to the other triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, but it was still in front of a cheering, rowdy crowd. The disciples didn’t have the benefit of a passion reading to prepare them and get them into the mood for what was coming at the end of the week. There were signs if they were paying attention. Jesus kept trying to tell them what was going to happen but they were not prepared.
Their week went from the triumphant entry into Jerusalem to hiding from the authorities in the blink of an eye. Their Passover dinner took a turn when Jesus washed their feet and asked them to “do this in remembrance of me”. The next day Jesus was betrayed to the authorities by one of their inner circle and killed. Then they went into the upper room and hid.
We’ve all had our own individual swerves, times when our lives are turned upside down; the death of loved ones, the loss of a job, a devastating diagnosis. But this year for Holy Week we are all living this swerve. We are living in a global pandemic and the whole world has been turned upside down.
It’s true that since January there were signs for us of what might come. We have heard of Coronavirus since the end of last year. By the end of February we knew that we needed to be more careful about washing our hands. Then, in one quick week in the middle of March, everything turned upside down and we had a global pandemic on our hands. People were dying not just in China, but in Italy, and now Washington State and New York. Governors around the country declared states of emergency and began asking people to stay at home to save lives. Is this how it was for Jesus’ friends? In one week it all turned upside down for them?
Holy Week has been so ritualized for so long. We practice the same liturgies and rituals which have great meaning for us. They are meant to draw us into the mystery of the last supper and the crucifixion, and they do. They are deeply meaningful. It will be strange for us to not gather in church with one another like we always do. These intimate rituals involving touch and closeness with one another are simply not allowed for us this year.
What if the invitation for us this year instead, is to lean into the swerve, to lean into our lives being turned upside down? We know that death isn’t the end of the story for Jesus and it isn’t for us as Christians. This week is an invitation into transformation. Transformation is never easy, almost always painful and never when we want it.
The original Holy Week changed the world forever, this one will too. It will be better for us if we lean into our transformations and lean into the profound depths of God’s love for us. God is ALWAYS in the suffering- that’s the message of the crucifixion. If we lean into transformation and love and remember that we are all suffering, the whole world is suffering, and have compassion and love for each other wherever we are on the swerve, we will get through this.
This year we will live Holy Week in a new way together. We may get a richer glimpse of what it was like for the original followers of Jesus. May it be a time of transformation for us. May we learn to lean into our fear and sorrow as we journey through it to the other side.