So I started to rethink. What if I were to take fame and fortune out of the equation? I still have relatively good health for a man of my years. At least I still have all of my hair, greying though it may be, and all of my teeth--give or take four wisdom teeth. I have the use of all of my limbs, I'm not overweight or on medication. I have a family who loves me, shelter from the elements, clothing, food, and access to clean water. This puts me in a state of unimaginable luxury compared to about 75% of the earth's population. On top of all this, I love my work. I have a caring and growing congregation (working-class or not), some wonderful teenagers to teach, and the gift of being able to preach the gospel and write this blog which, at last count, has been read in about thirteen countries across the globe. All-in-all, I'd say I'm a pretty successful guy.
Neither fortune nor fame will keep me from dying. It is, perhaps, better for me to glory in the humbler things of life: loving relationships, a sense of purpose, the ability to be grateful.
The story of Palm Sunday is an exercise in humility. The pageant of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem might seem pretty pathetic to a world impressed by giant spectacle. This little rabbi from Nazareth had no imposing resume or titles, just a loyal following of humble, working-class people. Peasants, really. His entourage consisted of simple fishermen, many of whom--if not all--were illiterate. There was nothing about this group of Galileans to inspire awe or even such respect as might have been afforded learned scribes or Pharisees. The humble Messiah rode into town, not on a galloping war horse, but on a donkey--a peasant's mode of transportation. There were no banners hung in his honor, only the branches of palm trees. And yet, these branches were waved with as much love and affection and hope as had they been the costliest fabric pennants. No red carpet was laid at his feet, only the well-worn garments of those who were putting their hope in him. Having no home of his own, he borrowed a room for the Passover feast. And, having no money or means of his own, at week's end he was laid in a borrowed grave.
It strikes me that no matter how impressive a spectacle we create, there will always be someone who will do us one better. The next pageant for king or hero will be more elaborate, more ornate, more expensive. There will be more bells, more whistles, more dancing girls and acrobats. And yet...we would be very hard pressed to find a parade more humble than the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on that long-ago Sunday.
Jesus rode into the holy city in earthly poverty, but filled with spiritual wealth. He possessed the riches of the truth, a truth he proclaimed in Herod's temple when he boldly preached that the rulers of the land had placed financial gain and ritual tradition over compassion for the poor.
He possessed the wealth of his love--humbling himself to wash the feet of his friends.
He possessed the wealth of mercy and sacrifice, giving everything--his body, his dignity, his very life--for the sake of others.
How very glorious that was!
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You'll note that I refer to this liturgical day as "Palm Sunday," rather than as "The Sunday of the Passion." In my parish I prefer not to read the passion story on the Sunday prior to Easter. I think doing so does a disservice to the congregation. I've always held that there is a real spiritul blessing to be gained by the sort of "participatory theatre" of Holy Week. On Palm Sunday, we sing Jesus' praise and wave the palm branches. On Holy Thursday, we wash feet, celebrate the meal, and then stand in respectful silence as the church is stripped of ornament in remembrence of Jesus' betrayal, arrest, and beating on that night. We leave the sanctuary in silence, contemplating what he endured for our sake. We gather the next night for the solemn Tenebrae--the service of darkness during which the candles are extinguished as our Lord's crucifixion is recalled, leaving us in blackness to contemplate the senseless evil of this world. I think all of these experiences are good and necessary for us to appreciate the gift that is Easter morning.
May your Holy Week be a blessing to you, my friends. I urge you, if you can, to participate in the holy liturgies of this week. Meditate on our Lord's passion, and know his love for you.