Palm Sunday re-visited

Palm Sunday - He Qi
(Palm Sunday – He Qi)

Today we have celebrated Palm Sunday. Once again I am intrigued by how chaotic and awkward the worship can feel.  It can be a stretch to ‘connect the dots’ between triumphal entry and brutal death. Too much for one service, we attempt a flow of worship, where it appears none was intended. Frustrated – we force this story and its impact to fit our worship service and self-created time restraint.

The service for Palm Sunday is overwhelming. Even if the church designed this service to pack in the whole story, it could be the best way to begin Holy Week. On this day we enter a week filled with confusion, fear, pain and celebration. Was it not chaos for all involved during that week? Jesus had tried to explain all that was to come. But    among this glorious entry into the city of ‘all that was sacred’, an entry that sung of victory and God’s blessing – who could have imagined that all would turn so horrible and tragic. The chaos certainly was overwhelming. Packed into a week – they went from certainty to despair.

And so packed into an hour and a half we, as followers of Jesus, share in this heart wrenching confusion – we enter with palms waving and exit in silent, somber awe. Exhausted we leave – wondering how all of these moments can happen so quickly.

Whether it is in an hour or a week, the moments happen quickly for they are out of our control, then and now. We walk the road this next week, invited to gather for the sacred meal, stay alert in the garden and know the sound of death’s silence. We know our hearts will rise with a dawn’s sun but for this moment we are invited to join in the journey of these six days. It does not matter how often you have experienced this Holy Week – the road is filled with new images and insights. Stay alert for the moments pass quickly.


(a re-written re-post)

…where were you?

…where were you?

It is an anniversary–10 years ago today, September 11, our sense of peace and security was shaken to its core. There are few in this country and world that do not remember where they were on that Tuesday morning. Almost anyone asked, could tell a story of how the horrors and uncertainties of that day affected them personally.

I can picture exactly where I was as news began to report the attacks in New York and the Pentagon. Working as a chaplain in a large teaching hospital, I remained on high alert, prepared to respond to unspeakable traumas every day. The morning routine had been normal — it was time for a cup of coffee, after making first rounds in my assigned units. Sitting with another staff chaplain, we begin to notice small clusters of people gathering to talk about airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center in Manhattan. Nowhere in my wildest imagination would I have considered what was to come.

…where were you?

So many people can tell a story of how his or her lives were changed that day. The natural response was to contact love ones – to hear their voices or see their faces. On that morning we, myself, my brother and sister, anticipated the return of our parents from a two-week holiday in Paris, France. Their flight was to land in Newark, New Jersey sometime mid morning. In the blink of an eye their return became of grave concern. No one knew where these lethal planes had originated and waiting for that news would seem a lifetime. I immediately wanted to contact my brother and sister. What could we do? How could we find our parents in the midst of such chaos? Mom and Dad had been with my aunt, dad’s sister, and her husband who were still in Paris. I called my uncle’s office, spoke to his secretary and gave her information on how to contact me when/if she received news from my uncle. I then called my brother, who lived near Washington DC, a chaplain at a private preparatory school. My sister-in-law answered their phone from the floor of her basement with small children near. The next exit from their house was the Pentagon. They had felt the ground shake as the plane crashed into the Pentagon’s walls. The noise of rescue vehicles and helicopters filled their yard and home. Okay–now there was a concern for parents flying into the New York area and for my brother’s family so very close to another attack. A call to my sister brought comfort; she and her family were safe, alert and aware.

It was not long before we all knew that the planes used for these horrific acts were domestic. They had left American cities on course to wreak havoc on other American cities. Such acts were un-thinkable. Who could do these things? As the day unfolded news began to report that these actions were planned in middle-eastern countries far away – by people known as terrorists (a term that would become all too familiar in the days and years to follow). Even hearing these details, the question remained — where were the international flights – my mother and father? It was late morning before my pager alerted me to a call from my uncle’s office. News of my parent’s location! There would be no landing on America soil, that day or many days to follow. They were on route to a large landing strip, an Air Force military base in Gander Newfoundland, where they would land and remain for over 3 days, while waiting for clearance. Since that time a book has been written about this small town’s big heart as they hosted and cared for these foreign flights.


…where were you?

At a table in front of a hospital television, I remember returning calls to my brother and sister. There would still be much to do to build the bridge needed for us to be in contact with our parents. For now we could give thanks for their safety.

That afternoon, just like the day began, I sat with the same chaplain sharing coffee and reflecting on all we had heard and experienced since that morning. Feeling somewhat helpless, we tried to think of who might need our prayers and support. We soon found ourselves in the office of a professor at the school of medicine. He was Muslim. Nowhere in our wildest imaginations did we see this moment in time. Though we were quiet, we shared prayers of gratitude and peace.

…where were you?