Palm Sunday

It’s Holy Week.

Doesn’t look like it in Colorado. After hot days all weekend long and an obscenely dry March, today is cloudy and the grey. The mountains looked like ghosts when I arrived in Littleton, they are barley visible, even from this distance. In Aurora, when I entered the highway rush hour, you couldn’t see the mountains at all. It’s dark and windy, the chill is back and my there is a weight in the air that you can feel, even within the confines of the library that shouldn’t be using electric lights so late in the morning.

Yesterday was brilliant, hot with blazing life across the front range. I wore shorts yesterday, shaved my legs and pulled on a pink tshirt that once belonged to my parents’ ill-wed neighbour. It was warm enough to take children outside to play in the waning light at the evening sunday school I run. We laughed and screamed on slides and monkey bars with toddlers still learning to speak.

Yesterday fell like a proper Palm Sunday though I did not attend a church service.

It was warm and the sun was throwing life towards the earth with careless joy. Trees have started to glow with buds of every colour and the grass has turned green almost overnight. It’s springtime. In Israel, in ancient Palestine, this is the time for lambs, for calves and new life all around. It’s the time when shepherds keep watch over their flocks at night and once heard angels sing of a king born in stubby little Bethlehem.

But we didn’t celebrate Bethlehem yesterday.

Yesterday, my Saviour rode triumphant into the glorious city that had once been Israel’s jewel. Yesterday, the crowds clapped and sang for him, they threw down cloaks and palm branches because a horse bearing such majesty ought to walk on cleaner ground than dusty old Jerusalem’s stones. They whooped and hollered, beads of sweat on wearied faces that yesterday held only smiles as they forgot, momentarily, the travails of life under Roman occupation. And he came in, on that donkey, and the disciples walked alongside him…were they proud to be at his side? Did they think fame and glory would soon follow such an entrance to the city where David and Solomon once ruled?

I’ve been thinking about what it was like, that day in Palestine. What were the Romans thinking? Another grungy zealot, leading people to their deaths in hopeless rebellion against the greatest empire the world had yet seen. Did they think him a madman and laugh? Perhaps, but it was a laughter tinged with anxiety: what might this madmen do? The Zealots were always attacking, ever since Judas Maccabeaus, attacking like ghosts, then melting into the countryside without a trace until the next assault. Would the troublesome Jews rebel? The country was full of madmen, claiming only one God and refusing to light incense of Caesar. Lunatics.

But even lunatics are dangerous.

Did the disciples yet understand what awaited them at the Passover feast? Or did they think like the Romans that this could end with war? I don’t think they expected him to die. He was Messiah, after all! Anointed one! Didn’t the Prophets of old anoint the ones who led them in to battle agains their enemies? What of Saul! Or David! David, of course, to whom God gave peace on all sides. And what of them, the twelve? They would be given places of honour when government was wrenched away from the puppet kings who were not born of the Davidic line. As they walked at the side of the donkey, how odd, a donkey! Not a triumphal creature, but lowly and foolish. As they walked beside the beast that carried their teacher, their master, did they expect a more triumphal entry than this one today? With the palm branches and the cloaks flung down for them to walk on; could there be greater things coming next?

But glory is not always what we expect.

But what, I wonder, did the common folk think? Here was a man front he outlying prospects of Nazareth, a Jew who lived in Gentile Galilee. A carpenter turned Rabbi. His face wasn’t handsome but the hands that held the reigns were strong and firm. His gaze looked sorrowful, despite the fervor around him and the cheering onslaught of the crowd come out to greet him. Do you think they wondered why? To look at the soldiers in their burnished armor, swords at their sides in easy reach, with helmets reflecting the bright springtime sun, to see those marks of domination, oppression and suffering and despite their fear, to cheer boldly for the man on his donkey. This morning, this afternoon, this was a day to mark down in history they must have thought. This was the rescue, so long awaited. See the gates opening to him, see the crowds press in with anxious hope. Feel the temperatures soar with the heat of bodies crushing against each other, hoping for a glance, just one, to see the Messiah who would break all fear and renew all hopes. Look at him! They cried to each other. This ride into Jerusalem it is the marked entrance of a king! This is the way they rode in when they conquered us! The Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Seleucids, the Greeks, the Romans! But now comes one of our own, and he will call them to account as Moses did in Egypt. He will establish peace and justice as David did, as Solomon kept. But he will do it better than even they! We will have food to way and clothes to wear. We will have dreams to hope for and no longer regret the world into which we bear our children. This man is hope, this man is justice, he will establish Torah and we will live under the Shadow of Glory as when we made the covenant at Sinai. We are being rescued, they thought, they hoped. And so they shouted, hosanna because no other words could describe the burning in their hearts.

But rescue comes in many ways.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday. Bright and warm, with hope for springtime and new beginnings.

Today is grey and cold.

When did the hope die? When did the people run in fear? When did they turn and betray him? How could their hearts so quickly falter? How could they have stopped believing so soon, so easily? Today, with hidden mountains, I can feel the anxiety, and the weighty sorrow of ended dreams. Lent is coming to an end, I thought of this today when I longed so desperately for a warm soy chai after a morning of traffic and errands before work, before school. Last week was Spring Break and for a few fleeting days I felt free, excited for summer, energized and thrilled by creation, beauty and all that is life. But then today came, and the triumph is gone.

Jesus has entered Jerusalem. Passover comes now.

With unsteady hands and tensed shoulders, with furrowed brows and wearied feet, we wait. Will it be the Passover of Moses in a new place, freeing from new oppression? Or will this be another failed Messiah, another judgement against us, another refusal to rescue as we’ve long been waiting for?

Yesterday was triumph.
Today is suspense.


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