Psalm 31:9-16; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 11:1-11
Fresco, Pietro Lorenzetti, 1320, lower basilica in Assisi, Italy
Silent streets. Empty churches. Vacant shelves. Skies unscarred by jet trails. The whole world wrapped in a blanket of social isolation. It’s a strange Palm Sunday. It’s a unique Lent. It’s like the ideal Advent we preach about but never achieve: a time of waiting, of expectation. When will this end? Let’s be honest, if you live in my neighborhood, when will it really begin in earnest? What’s next? You can cut the tension with a knife. You can taste the worry. If you’ve been to a grocery store in the past couple of days, you know what I mean. Read the Psalm today. “When they see me in the street they avoid me…I have become a reproach to my neighbors…fear is all around.”
Jesus rode in on a donkey. They laid palms and branches and coats on the street. They shouted “Hosanna, save us!” But on the other side of town, the Temple authorities and the Roman governor sat grimly writing names in their books, calculating how much trouble the Galilean was going to cost before this was over. All of Holy Week takes place with this dichotomy in mind: half the city was in delirium, paroxysms of joy, messianic yearnings suddenly bubbling up with expectation that this might just be the moment we’ve all waited for! And the other half brooded over when the moment was to catch Him up, snatch Him when the disciples’ attention was elsewhere, nip this in the bud. Half the town is seething with activity and the other half was silent, empty, vacant.
Stop listening to the crowds and their rapture. Stop listening to the rulers and their cool calculations. Pay attention to Him. What does He do? He looks–pay attention to the Temple, to what’s worth loving and what’s worth anger. He weeps–mourn what needs mourning. He washes feet–soap and water, 20 seconds, often. He gathers those He loves in small groups–the Last Supper almost meets the social distancing rules, doesn’t it? Might be time to reinstate family dinners… He accepts what’s coming–accepts what can’t be changed. He doesn’t run away–pay attention here. He doesn’t offer explanations, excuses, rationales–Pilate and the High Priest are met with silence. His life, after all, was its own explanation, its self-evident justification. Pay attention to Him. He’s the model.
There are thorns and nails, spear and whipping, ridicule and tomb ahead. There is also resurrection, folded shroud, “don’t touch me Mary” (even in the resurrection, some social distance), Emmaus, Thomas, seaside breakfast, ascension, a world reborn. Pay attention to Him. He’s the model. Not the shouting crowds. Not the scheming grandees. Pay attention to Him. And yes, wait. A strange Palm Sunday. But so was the first one, if you think about it…