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)

Memory of today…

It is an anniversary–14 years ago today, September 11, our sense of peace and security was shaken to its core. There are few people in this country (born before September 11, 2001) who do not remember where they were on that Tuesday morning.

I can picture exactly where I was as news began to report the attacks in New York, the Pentagon and the plane crashing in a Pennsylvania field. Working as a chaplain in a large teaching hospital, I was always on high alert, prepared to respond to unspeakable traumas every day. This particular morning the 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. Not in my wildest imagination could I have considered what was to come.

So many people tell a story of how his/her life was changed on that day. The natural response was to search out and contact love ones – to hear their voices or see their faces. On that morning we; myself, my brother and sister, were waiting for our parents to return 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 a big and scary question. No one knew where these lethal planes had originated and waiting for that news would seem a lifetime. What could we do? How would we find our parents in the midst of such chaos? Mom and Dad had been with my aunt and uncle during those 2 weeks 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 in Alexandria VA working as a chaplain at a private preparatory school. My sister-in-law answered the phone from their basement. The next exit from their house was the Pentagon. The ground around them shook as a plane crashed into the Pentagon’s walls. The noise of rescue vehicles and helicopters filled the air near their yard and home. Now there was concern for our parents flying around New York and for my brother’s family so very close to another attack. A call to my sister brought some comfort; she and her family were safe, alert and aware.

It was not long before we knew that the planes used for these horrific acts were domestic flights. They had left American cities on course to attack other American cities. 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 – where were our parents? It was late morning before my pager alerted me to a call from my uncle’s office with news. Mom and Dad would not be landing on American soil, not on that day nor many days to follow. Their plane was on route to an Air Force military base in Gander Newfoundland. Along with many other international flights they would land and remain in Gander for several days while they waited for clearance. A book has been written about this small town’s big heart telling of the important work they did as a part of the 9/11 rescue.

THE DAY THE WORLD CAME TO TOWN – 9/11 in Gander51SePOB7ysL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

As the afternoon waned, the same chaplain and I met again stunned and confused by all that had happened since morning. We knew the long, difficult and emotional work began to recover all the injured and honor all who died. Feeling helpless, we talked about who might need our prayers and support at that moment. We soon found ourselves in a professor’s office at the school of medicine. He was a Muslim and he was sitting alone, feeling the enormity of this day. In silence, we shared prayers for direction and peace.

…where were you?

(revised and re-posted)

The Path of Palm Sunday

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I offer a previously written reflection as it remains true for today. Welcome to Holy Week.

This day is always filled with confusion and inspiration. Its chaos and its strange, awkward flow – always challenge liturgists who strive to ‘connect the dots’ between triumphal entry and brutal death. Too much for one service we try to create a flow of worship, where it appears none was intended. Frustrated – we force this story and its impact to fit our form and time.

It is chaos — and yet, when I step back from the function, I sense a possible reason. Was it not chaos for all involved during that week? Who knew – disciples and all the hopeful – that this glorious entry into the city of all that was sacred, an entry that sung of victory and God’s blessing – who knew all would turn so horrible and tragic. The chaos must have been overwhelming. Packed into a week – they went from certainty to despair. Packed into an hour and a half we share that sense of wrenching confusion – we enter with palms waving and exit in silent awe. Exhausted we leave – wondering how all of these moments can happen so quickly.

Our time of wonder is as long as a life. We walk the road this next week, feeling the connection, the compassion and the violent shift. May there be insights in these days, hours and moments. May we realize all creation’s role as God enters our own sacred places.

For Palm Sunday, a poem by Mary Oliver

The Poet Thinks about the Donkey

On the outskirts of Jerusalem

the donkey waited.

Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,

he stood and waited.

*

How horses, turned out into the meadow,
leap with delight!

How doves, released from their cages,

clatter away, splashed with sunlight!

*

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.

Then he let himself be led away.

Then he let the stranger mount.

*

Never had he seen such crowds!

And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.

Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

*

I hope, finally he felt brave.

I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,

as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.