Palm Sunday: A Meditation
By the Rev. Deacon Patricia Marks
Posted March 26, 2013
He had a shock of brown, unruly hair, this boy who stood on the edge of the crowd. Looking into his eyes, which were like pools of deep water, you could see movement deep within, a perturbation, as if someone had thrown stones into a pond. He had a thoughtful face, and he was thinner than most boys his age. There was a frail air about him.
He stood quietly at the crossroads amid a crowd of strangers drawn out of their regular paths. There were mothers, holding hungry babies; grown men, fresh from the fields; and teenagers, old beyond their years, scrambling and jockeying to see the Hope of the Future. And crouched near the front were the elderly, weary with waiting, but determined.
Even amid the hubbub, the boy felt at peace. Yet it was not always so. Throughout his childhood he would feel something come over him; and later—he could never tell how long—he would awaken, covered with the dirt and dust of the ground where he had fallen, his sisters gathered around him holding up their shawls and spreading their skirts to protect him from the curious stares of the villagers. Later, they would tell him how he had writhed and twisted and clenched his teeth, but he never remembered that.
What he did remember is that always it was like coming back from the dead, always it was as if he had entered a new world, his senses sharpened, hearing and seeing what others couldn’t perceive. His parents, laborers like the rest, refused to let him work, frightened that one day he would no longer be able to get to his feet. All that, until . . .
until his father had taken him to a traveling rabbi to ask for healing. What courage that took, his son still marveled; what courage, for a meek and reticent man, to brave the wrath of the leaders, to set himself up as a laughingstock. What courage it took to say, “Rabbi, teacher, I believe you can do this; help my unbelief!”
And ever since that time, when the Teacher had taken him by the hand and lifted him up, he had been at peace. Now he spent most of his days listening to an old man in the village, learning all he could about this Rabbi. Still, every so often, his senses would suddenly sharpen and his eyesight change. It would happen when he passed a fruit seller, who slyly put his thumb on the scale; when he heard someone brag about his temple tithe; when he saw a Pharisee, in silken robes and trailing tassels step over the beggar huddled at the door. Then people were afraid of him, for he looked right through them into the truth of their hearts.
Now, peering between the heads in front of him, he sees a colt come slowly down the road, the man on it sitting tall, his feet nearly touching the ground. The crowd becomes noisier and noisier, and the boy’s head begins to throb in the old, familiar way.
“Hosanna!” they are crying. “Save us, deliver us! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!”
At that, the boy’s heart swells with joy. It is the Teacher who took pity on him, pity on his father. And he tries to cry out, with the rest, but cannot. “Save us, deliver us!” That is what the boy’s father begged of the Teacher. And afterward, his son remembered, as if in a dream, his father falling to his knees in the dust and whispering “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!”
And the man on the colt—what about him? How many times has he heard the plea “Save us, deliver us”? The wedding guests have run out of wine—what should we do? My friend, my child, my mother is dying! I cannot see, I cannot hear, I have leprosy, I have a demon. In their need, their desperate need, the crowd cries out for what it thinks it needs—an earthly Messiah, one of the house of David. But they are really crying out for much, much more—for God’s grace; for transformation; for God’s will to be done.
In that plea for deliverance we hear the undertone of a memory reaching back to a time when a lamb was sacrificed and its blood spilled on the doorposts, when a whole nation went into exile. That memory is bred in the bone of the One who turns His face resolutely towards Gethsemane, where he himself prays his own version of Hosanna. “Father, if you are willing, deliver this cup from me.” To Gethsemane, where his own pure faith speaks in adoration: “yet not my will, but yours be done.”
So the people fling their cloaks in front of the colt, lest the mud of the road spatter the Messiah. Old cloaks, torn cloaks, dusty cloaks; cloth with patterns faded and torn; cloaks made painstakingly by hand, handed down, used day in and day out.
Flung without a second thought, these cloaks that covered the backs of the laborers, that sheltered the heads of the infants, that served as blankets by night. And the boy, moved by something indefinable, joins in, pulling from his own shoulders a worn, blue cloak, woven long ago by his mother. The edges, carefully embellished with a tiny pattern; the fringe, lovingly knotted.
And as he takes it from his shoulders, he hears his mother gasp and his father groan. “That is all you have to cover you, my son,” he says. But the boy, his eyes shining, pushes his way through the crowd and throws his cloak under the hooves of the colt.
What does he see, looking up at the figure who bends down towards him? The dust of the earth shot through with God’s own light; Heaven and earth coming together in one still point. The old covenant raised up and made new; the poor, the hungry, the grieving made whole; the potential of a new creation springing up in joy.
And the boy, possessed by the grace and the love of God, falls on his knees in the mud, crying aloud,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!