Sunday, March 20, 2016

2016.03.20 Join The Parade!

I don't like the disorderliness of the Palm Sunday celebration in the Christian church. It resists all our attempts and to order it remains chaotic, all of us sliding back and forth in time and space, from life to death and back, trying to affect solemnity while crazily parading about waving palms and singing wild joy-bound Hosannas. I know God blesses messes, and I do remember the joy of parading with the children’s choir and waving as many palms as I could clutch in my small fist—to the glory of God and my parents's admiring eyes. Inside, though, I felt small, lost and uneasy.

Honestly, I prefer liturgy, because it's meant to provide enough structure  to allow for variations but within a dependable framework. It's safe. We process. We don't parade.

One can get lost in a parade. As a child I was grateful to ride on my dad’s shoulders to view the colorful disorder of city parades. The craziest, scariest was the St. Patrick’s Day parade, possibly because of all that green beer. Some 70 years later the St. Paddy’s Day parade could well boast the unworthy status of being the most litigated in American history—something about the right to keep people out of it.

Palm Sunday mimics a parade despite attempts to order it. It’s the reenactment of the biblical event called the Triumphal Entry of Jesus and his followers into Jerusalem. We vest the sanctuary and its clergy in red, the color of bloody martyrdom, a foreshadowing. But who counts foreshadowings? Palm Sunday is preemptive, anticipatory. If only we could stop with the dramatization of the jubilant entry alone.
Instead, we frontload this Sunday with the whole week of the last days of Jesus’ life, his Passion, including the famous scene, Dominus Flevit (The Lord weeps): Jesus in tears, looking out over the beloved Jerusalem.  There is a beautiful church on this site in Jerusalem. The dome of the church is shaped like a teardrop. That scene, though, is a mere pause before the story lurches onward into torture, unjust trial, cruel execution, humiliating death, and numbed silence. It's overwhelming to the average thumping heart to go so quickly from a mood of exuberance into despondence—once again too late to save, though our palms are still green and supple.

But we must do it, however lukewarmly, because Jesus had to. Imagine yourself as a follower going through this trauma? Do you feel grateful?—thank God, it's not me. Maybe resistant?—ho hum.  Sometimes I try to order it with my mind, understanding as my way to allay my own emotions. I wonder: Would Jesus have been so committed to a healing ministry if he had not known deep wounds? Would he have spoken so often and with such clarity against deep paralytic fear had he not known it himself?  And so must we. 

Most of us, like me,  do not let ourselves in on the kind of terror this Sunday evokes—such trauma all at once.  We simply say, often smugly, that we know the ending. But we do not know the ending—my ending, your ending. Not really.

Ironically, what helps me with the messy emotionality of Passion Sunday is to let it be God's parade—not mine, not the Church's liturgy, not the procession I prefer, nor the parade of exclusionary politics, not even the parade of biblical re-enactment. This parade is like no other. It's a parade of vision.

There is nothing “official” in this parade, no marching band, no dignitary enclosed in a car, no messiahs, except perhaps a leader who has given his donkey to a cripple and who walks among the people. Motley is too small a word for this parade: clowns and criminals, gypsies and gymnasts, betrayers and beloveds, drunkards and dreamers, rowdies, ruffians, peasants and patricians, poets, flutists, flaunters and flirts, children waving hockey sticks and pom poms, Roman soldiers, Temple priests, cripples and athletes, elderly on walkers, and the infirm in wheelchairs, animals to rival Noah’s—and angels.

All the paraders share one hope: let it be me. All yearnings are pinned on one hope. Like pin the tail on the donkey, no one sees the direction this parade is taking. No one sees the route, or even the supposed leader clearly.

Yet wildly we sing along and shout to glory laud and honor—while in my heart a secret prayer: Lord have mercy.