I did not grow up in this tradition. As old as high school, my only experience with it was that my Catholic friend couldn't order meat on his pizza during Lent, and even then, I had no idea why. For many years after, it just wasn't anything I thought about or even heard about in the faith tradition we were a part of.
A few years ago, I decided to participate in the part of Lent that encourages you to "give up" something for the 40 days prior to Easter - to use that time that you would usually be doing that thing to contribute to something good, or to use cravings for the thing you gave up as a prompt to consider Jesus and all that He gave up for us, or to use the money saved in the giving up to contribute to a worthwhile cause - you get the jist. I found this beneficial - it did cause me to be more thoughtful in the time leading up to Easter, and I continued for several years this way. Two years ago, I went to an Ash Wednesday service for the first time, and followed the Liturgical Calendar a little closer as we moved through the season and found this even more contemplative. As many of you know by now, last year Brian and I began to visit different churches. We landed for the longest period in an Episcopal church and have, in that experience, followed the Church calendar very closely.
Today was Palm Sunday. I've known forever what Palm Sunday was, but I don't remember ever really observing anything particularly different on that day. I knew it was the day that Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey, as the crowds laid palm branches on the road and sang His praises - only hours before the whole crowd would turn and scream for His crucifixion. I knew this - but I rarely paused to consider. I have never taken the time to walk through this week. Slowly. Deliberately. In the tradition I grew up in, my memory was business as usual, until Easter Sunday, when we would dress in our Sunday finest, gather together, often hear a sermon detailing the horrific details of Christ's crucifixion, move quickly to the Resurrection and all that means to us -- and celebrate!
Observing Lent, walking up to Easter slowly, deliberately, has been something I needed. I've been reading a book throughout this season that has daily reflections. It has moved slowly through the scriptures surrounding Jesus last days on earth. I've found myself wanting to rush to the end, wondering why we have to linger here so long. But the lingering has been good. Necessary.
This morning, the service I attended laid palm branches down the center aisle at the beginning of the service, we sang hallelujah, we welcomed Jesus with Psalms read aloud together - we experienced His triumphant entry. Then, during the gospel reading, we went through the story in a narrative form - still all scripture, but read almost as a play. The congregation read the parts of the crowd. So here's what I heard today: My voice - singing hosanna. My voice reciting Psalms welcoming the long awaited Messiah. My voice, shouting to free Barabbas. My voice shouting for His crucifixion. It was sobering, to say the least.
It sent me to thinking about the various characters on site that day....
- Peter: He would set himself up as judge and jury both at their last shared meal and in the garden, only to hide in the shadows and then flatly deny Him just hours later.
- Judas: His trusted friend - then His betrayer.
- Disciples: They ran, they hid, a few slunk back to watch from a distance. Only John returned to stand at his feet.
- The Crowd: They followed when He was popular. They sang His praises. But when it got scary, when it got hard, they scattered...a few watching silently from a distance, many changing their shouts from "Hosanna" to "Crucify" because it felt safer, perhaps.
- The Religious and the Romans: They simply wanted status quo. Any threat to that had to be destroyed.
- He encouraged Peter - He rebuked him, but he also told Him he was praying for Him, even as He knew what was coming for them both.
- He called Judas Friend, even as Judas delivered the kiss of betrayal.
- He washed the feet of His disciples, knowing that they would turn tail and run in a matter of hours.
- He accepted the praises of a fickle crowd. He knew they were weak and would soon turn on Him, yet He still accepted them where they were that day. And after they turned on Him, He prayed for them. He forgave them, even as they shouted their threats and curses.
- Even as he hung dying, he took the time to commission John with a job to do. He cared for his mother and John, even in the midst of astounding personal agony.
And here was my biggest thought this morning... Who am I?
In this cast of characters, who am I?
I have been all of these. I have set myself up as judge and jury of others, only to fail miserably in my own personal journey. I have turned my back on my greatest Love. I have hidden when I was afraid. I have praised when it was easy and remained silent when it was hard. I have wanted the status quo - I have fought change at all cost.
Yet, He loves. He prays. He encourages. He suffers.
We know the end. We want to rush to "He lives!"
But let's not. This week, sit with Him in the suffering. Think about who you are in the cast of characters. Think about what He suffered for Love.
We so want to rush to the happy ending. There's plenty of time for that next Sunday.
But this week, let's not rush.
Let's slow down.
Sit in it with Him.
Who are you?
Who is He?