Holy Week has come and gone. This is, without question, my favorite time in the church year. From Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we have the opportunity to experience the Scripture. We get to walk through a week so devastating, yet so wonderfully perfect. The life and divinity of Jesus, his ministry and the wholeness of God’s steadfast love for his creation becomes real and honored. Each year we read the same stories, repeat similar worship traditions – yet this week is impactful deep, deep down in my soul in a way words can’t do justice.
On Palm Sunday I was tired – a combination of being over-worked and lacking caffeine. On this celebratory morning, I did not feel like being social. (As a natural introvert, that is probably my truth 90% of the time…) So I sat in the Sanctuary before worship began. While everyone happily chatted in the Fellowship Hall, I read and re-read the Gospel for the day, trying to place myself into this narrative which I have heard so many times before.
We read from Luke 19 that day… you know the story. Jesus arrives in Jerusalem before the Passover, which ends up being before his betrayal and crucifixion. He sends the disciples ahead for a donkey. He rides into Jerusalem on the back of this humble creature, while the crowd waves branches and lay their cloaks on the dusty road before him. The people cry: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (v. 38) When Jesus is asked to make the people stop, he says “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (v. 40)
Jesus knew what was before him – the physical pain and the emotional anguish as the people he came to serve and to save turned against him. Yet Jesus acknowledged the glory which was his. Here today, some 2,000 years later, I have the privilege of standing with fellow Christ-followers in a small Nebraska church waving palm branches and singing Hosanna! The children sang on Palm Sunday, my sweet 6-year-old filled with joy from the front row. Can she even begin to fathom the loud, crowded streets of Jerusalem so many years ago? Can I imagine what it was like to be in that crowd with Jesus before me? The people praised their king as he passed by. It was loud, crowded – probably hot and smelly. Did they know what was to come, who he was?
As I sat quietly in my church that morning, I also read the narrative of Palm Study from Matthew, Mark and John. The story of Jesus’ triumphant arrival into Jerusalem is one of only 10 or so events in all four Gospels. Oddly enough, another event on this short list is the woman who anoints Jesus. I just so happened to write about this Gospel lesson last week. (The “Perks” Found on the Journey) This story occurs just before Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem. So, as I sat in church on Palm Sunday searching through the Gospels for a donkey and palm branches, I was again drawn to re-read the account of this woman anointing Jesus. There are SO many events in Jesus’ ministry: countless parables, healing and acts of love. Of the short list documented by all four writers, what makes these two events so important?
For me right now, the connection of these two events highlights the importance of both intimacy with and devotion to Jesus. In the quiet of a private room, a woman anoints Jesus. It was an intimate, sincere act of devotion. In the loud, cheering crowds, the people honored Jesus with words of praise and acts of celebration. While the settings are quite different, in both moments people stopped, set aside their mundane daily tasks and honored Jesus. Our world might try to redirect our focus, but this is our centering point. This is what draws us back to love from Creator, which allows us to respond in kind to the world around us.
The world is loud and chaotic – sometimes we need to pause and wave a palm frond with joy or anoint our Savior with oil. I speak metaphorically, of course. While we cannot physically honor a human Jesus as these people did so many years ago, we can seek a deep and intimate relationship – one of devotion and trust. Holy Week is done, the celebration of Easter Sunday complete. I walk forward seeking moments of pause, both personal and communal, where Christ might be honored, and through that experience the deepest of peace and joy.