Matthew 21: 1-11
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The 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!” 10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
The parade. I’ve always loved the parade. As a child, I loved the story. And I REALLY loved getting a palm branch to wave during the first hymn and then play with throughout the rest of the service. It was an odd story to me then. Truthfully, I really didn’t understand the connection to the rest of Holy Week at all. I think I assumed that Jesus was entering the city like a movie star, that everyone there dropped what they were doing and got on board with the whole Jesus agenda and had a party or something.
But that’s not really it. Jesus and his small band of followers wound up the narrow, ruddy road around the Garden of Gethsemane with an uncooperative donkey walking over the cheaply-made cloaks of ordinary people. There were no grand stallions. There was no finery. And it was set against the backdrop of a bustling city that really wasn’t paying attention to Jesus at all. And so he entered through the back door of the city and the small crowd that had gathered with him went about their way. Jesus was alone with only a few of his disciples. He wasn’t surrounded by a crowd. Most of those with him outside the gates had gone back to their lives. He was essentially alone. And Holy Week began.
But this year we won’t wave palm branches and walk with a crowd. This year we won’t play with the palm during the service. Our sanctuaries are empty with the possible exception of those involved in the streaming operation. This year we all walk alone–or at least six feet apart. How did the world change so dramatically in a couple of weeks? How did we go from being part of bustling crowds on our streets, in our restaurants, at sporting events, and in the pews to this? How did we go from being free to come and go as we please to this? How did we end up alone–or at least six feet apart?
And, yet, the fact that the whole world has all at once been brought to this place, brought to our knees simultaneously, in an odd way brings us together. It makes us pay attention. It has seemed to make most of us more empathetic. We can’t drop our used palms and go “back to our lives” because our lives, for now, are gone. But our hearts are intact. And it’s made us pay attention. We’re suddenly aware that there are people that are just a paycheck away from having nothing to eat. We’re suddenly aware that those who struggle on the streets are in real danger. We’re suddenly aware of those who have no insurance. We’re aware that many of us, maybe even some of us reading this, are vulnerable. Maybe that awareness is not such a bad thing. Maybe sometimes we need to be jolted out of our comfortable assumptions and our comfortable lives. I wish this wasn’t the way that had to happen. But, isn’t it weird, that when we can’t touch each other, when we can’t all be together, we pay more attention to each other? We seem to be more in tune with each other because we’ve been forced to listen to each other.
Today we enter Jerusalem alone–or at least six feet apart. Today we crave to touch and hug and laugh and share. Today we have to listen a little harder to the world around us. Today we know what’s important and we go through the gate. Because today, our hearts lead the way. We’ve never walked this way alone. But we’re really not alone. We’re just six feet apart. And if we listen, we can still sing the Hallelujahs even from that distance.
The way of Love is the way of the Cross, and it is only through the cross that we come to the Resurrection. (Malcolm Muggeridge)
On this Palm Sunday, pray for those fighting for us on the front lines–the healthcare workers, the first responders, those who are packing our food and bagging our groceries and delivering the stuff we need. And remember that you can still make music–even when you’re six feet apart.
Go into the Gate. You do not walk alone.