Sunday 5th April 2020 – Palm Sunday
This Sunday’s Reflection is from Dr Jim Harris.
One of my worst characteristics as a boy was that my intense desire to start things was never matched by my capacity to concentrate long enough to finish them. My childhood was littered with half-made models, the detritus of hobbies hastily begun and then dropped as soon as the next shiny, interesting thing came into view.
My room was full of collections, of bottles, egg cups, stamps and fossils, none of which stuck with me long enough to grow into something substantial.
It is strange to find myself now, as we all do, engaged in a project of indeterminate length, in which we have no choice but to participate and in which the outcome of not approaching it wholeheartedly is too grim to contemplate.
This is a moment for commitment and for solidarity – not just with those in our immediate surroundings – the families with whom we are isolated – but also those we cannot see: our neighbours and friends, who all suddenly seem so distant; our wider families; this family. Perversely, it’s our solidarity in avoiding each other that maintains the possibility of our all coming together again.
The narrative of Holy Week, beginning today on Palm Sunday with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, hailed by the crowds as their saviour, the Son of David, the Promised One coming in the name of the Lord, and ending in the dark absence of next Saturday, with Jesus sealed in his tomb after his execution on Friday is a story of apparently wholehearted commitment and its loss under pressure
Today, we see Jesus friends obedient to his strange request to fetch the donkey, certain that he knows what he’s doing. We see crowds of people attaching themselves vocally and publicly to his cause. We see a shared project, a collective act of worship, a community in action.
Yet the rest of the week sees conflict, as Jesus challenges the authorities, challenges the economic and political bases of the temple culture, challenges people about their personal behaviour and challenges his friends about their preparedness to follow him truthfully and faithfully, no matter what.
By Thursday night, Jesus closest friend Peter is denying him and by Friday afternoon, only a handful, including his Mother Mary and his friend John remain as he suffers and dies.
It’s easy to commit in the celebration of solidarity that comes with a hopeful project. Believe me, all my childhood hobbies were the one I was going to really stick with. It is much harder to remain faithful when circumstances change and the going gets tough, when the model doesn’t seem to fit together or when the project becomes too complicated and demanding.
The challenge of Palm Sunday is to stay the course. It is not simply to welcome Jesus, not simply to rejoice in his coming, but to attach ourselves to his person and cause such that we will not leave him as the week goes on. It is to maintain our commitment in the face of discomfort and privation, in the face of pain and fear.
We who are living in a time of pain and fear, of something that has gone far beyond inconvenience and discomfort, are asked to commit to a strange and alien way of life for a short time, with the hopeful promise that we will see one another again, healthy and whole, in a safe, secure future.
With Jesus, the commitment is longer: not just this week, or even twelve weeks or twelve months, but a lifetime.
But the promise is greater too, of a life fulfilled and rich, even in the direst of circumstances; of a community of support and love even when separated and dispersed; of a world in which the care of the weak and the vulnerable is a priority, the priority, all the time not just in a crisis.
When we celebrate Jesus on Palm Sunday then, it is not as the people of Jerusalem did, because he is this week’s thing.
We celebrate him because he comes to call us into a new and challenging life. Our job in that new life is to hold fast to our Lord and to each other and to bring one another and, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the whole of creation, to the promise and possibility not of this Sunday with its vain hope and shallow commitment, but of the next.