I am struggling a bit this week. Not with Palm Sunday itself or with all that is to come during Holy Week. Rather, I am wrestling with anger at the federal government for making the situation in the U.S during this pandemic far worse than it might have been. Inaction and spreading of false information has led to a higher number of deaths. I want to commemorate Jesus’ triumphant return to Jerusalem. However, I am feeling the press of a hostile government far more intensely.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem so long ago in stark contrast to the way Roman officials rode into town. Jesus rode with humility while the soldiers rode with pride. The power Jesus offered seemed little in the face of armor and swords. Yet, it is this very power to disrupt the oppressive ways of those who claim authority that we need right now. We need to remember a truth that can abide with us through life into death then into new life. We need to celebrate, honor, and remember the One who spoke of peace in a world bent toward destruction, and embodied love in the face of hateful violence.
How can we as the Body of Christ be triumphant in these days? In the U.S. we have an administration that denied the severity of COVID-19 even as the worldwide death toll mounted. The federal government has also outbid individual states for medical supplies, driving up the prices. And then the President said that governors needed to be nice to him if they wanted federal aid in this crisis. Today I read that gun stores are considered “essential” and can remain open. The NRA has enough power that gun stores can remain open to profit from people’s fears and put the lives of vulnerable people at greater risk. All of this leads me to think things that I have no proof of, and yet can’t help feeling. I’m just going to say it: I think the current administration hopes that COVID-19 will rid the U.S. of “undesirable” populations. If they keep their response ineffective, then the people who will die are those who are elderly, those who are homeless, those who are disabled, those who reside in institutions (those experiencing psychiatric crises, those who are incarcerated, and those in detention centers), those who live in poverty, and everyone else who lacks the resources needed to access necessary healthcare in this country.
Part of me wants to say that these are the kinds of things Jesus returned to Jerusalem to face. He opposed the Roman government and Temple authorities at every opportunity. People greeted him with cheers and celebrations because they believed he would set them free from oppression. And he did, just not the way they expected. Are we able to follow his lead? Are we able to encourage all of our people to stay at home if they are not among those who truly are essential? Are we able to create or sustain a strong sense of community that will hold the fear and the grief (and the anger) that accompanies COVID-19? Are we somehow managing to counter the messaging of hatred and blame coming from this administration? Are we reminding people that they have value, that their lives are worth saving, and this virus is not a punishment or judgment from God?
While we cannot gather in person and celebrate this Sunday with any of our usual traditions of Palm branches and processions, we can still gather using whatever virtual means is available to us. We can sing songs of praise and remind ourselves that God is present and the messaging of the federal government is in direct opposition to the message of Love Jesus embodied.
In some ways Holy Week comes at the perfect time for those among us who are feeling hopeless. We can celebrate with songs of praise on Sunday and not resist the move into the Passion. Think of those who have died and will die because of the broken systems in this country and the power of organizations like the NRA… This is betrayal on par with what Judas did to Jesus. When we tell this story on Thursday with broken bread and a cup poured out, the pain of betrayal won’t be imaginary. And when we move into Friday with the bleakness of Jesus’ death, maybe we will be able to bear witness to the injustice in the deaths around us. When Saturday comes and the world is still and silent and grieving we might feel the emptiness of despair more deeply than in years past. Easter, too, will be a different experience for us. I wonder what we will hear in the good news of resurrection…
For now, I continue to wrestle with my thoughts and feelings. I want to join the celebration on Sunday and journey through the week unhindered. Yet, this journey from life to death to new life feels all too real and far more serious this year than in any I can remember. Wherever you are as Holy Week approaches, let’s remember together that we worship a God of life and love, a God who seeks to bring hope to the hopeless and wholeness to the broken places. Let us all stay awake and keep watch…
RCL – Year A – Palm Sunday – April 5, 2020