Lenten Journal, Day 39, Palm Sunday
Yesterday and the day before I wrote in this journal but did not post what I had written to Facebook as I have throughout the rest of Lent. Friday was our 39th wedding anniversary and Saturday, being the day before Palm Sunday, is when Evelyn and I remember the day our daughter disappeared (she was later found and all is well). What I wrote yesterday and Friday was simply too personal to put out on public social media.
Today we have stayed home from church because Evelyn has a rip-roaring upper respiratory infection. You should hear her cough! As we have done so, I have been thinking about the way we have commemorated Palm Sunday as married persons for the last 39 years. Except that year when Caitlin went missing, they have been invariably the same (as least for me): Saturday spent decorating the church with palms; Sunday the simple 8 a.m. distribution of palms within the context of Holy Communion; the later service a big production number beginning with a procession around the church and through the cemetery (if there was one nearby, as there has been here in Medina and was in San Diego), a choral Eucharist, the dramatic reading of the Passion Narrative.
A Sunday spent at home is quite a contrast. And that got me to wondering about the people in Jerusalem who stayed home. The Passion stories in all four gospels make one imagine every citizen out on the streets, every soldier absent from the barracks, the market places empty as everyone lined the pathway from Bethphage to the Mercy Gate and streets of the city beyond. But, somehow, I doubt that’s what happened at all.
Women were still at home nursing babies. Shopkeepers would not have left their stalls. Servants would not have been released for something so prosaic as a wandering rabbi, even an infamous one, coming to town – perhaps especially not for a rabble rouser like Jesus. Not every soldier would have been assigned duty that day and, like soldiers throughout time, those in barracks might have been sleeping, playing dice, or polishing their kit. There were, I suppose, plenty of people simply ignoring the spectacle we make such a fuss about.
I can hear my neighbor working in his yard. It’s raining, but that doesn’t stop him from the task he has set himself, uprooting and disposing of overgrown bushes and vines put there by a long departed former owner. He started this project early in the week and is hoping to get it done before Easter Sunday as he is scheduled for surgery the next week. Like Evelyn and I today, he is not paying any attention to Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into the city of Jerusalem.
He is not our only neighbor to do so. Nearly all of our neighbors are among the non-churchgoing public. We have few religiously observant households in this subdivision. If this year is like the many that have gone before, they will have Easter Sunday family gatherings complete with front yard Easter Egg Hunts, but going to church will not figure into their plans. They all observe Christmas, the secular holiday, but again going to church is never a part of their winter solstice observation. And the Sundays between those holidays are spent doing yardwork, going to sporting events, or just hanging out.
Jesus gets no more attention from them than he did from those shopkeepers, household servants, and sleeping soldiers in Jerusalem.
And yet what happened on that long-ago Palm Sunday (if it was a Sunday) started a course of events that was for them as much as it was for the Twelve or for Mary Magdalene or for Martha and Mary of Bethany or the throngs along that path down the Mount of Olives and through the Kidron Valley. That they or we do not pay any attention to Jesus does not in the least detract from the meaning or the efficacy of what he did or what was done to him or what God did during that week in First Century Palestine. That week is all about us, whether we participate in it or not, but it does not depend on us at all.
I miss the palms today. I missed them more yesterday, actually: the Saturday decorating of the church has always been a much more personally spiritual event for me than the Palm Sunday activities. I will miss the Chrism Mass on Tuesday (I cannot attend because of medical procedures scheduled for that day). We have no plans to attend a tenebrae on Wednesday or an Agape Meal on Maundy Thursday. I’m not sure what I will do on Good Friday. For Holy Week this year, I am a likely non-participant; I am the church member clergy quietly resent. But that’s OK. Holy Week doesn’t depend on me; it doesn’t depend on those clergy. Holy Week is about grace. It’s all about us, but it does not depend on us at all.
Whether I participate in Holy Week or not, grace abounds.