Spring dances with the first tentative greens and the crystal clarity of blue skies. Palm Sunday is rarely far behind and brings its rituals: church for a few, processions and palms for others, family gatherings. For some, there is a skeptical cynicism and not-so-gentle mocking of all that religion represents. For others, there is nothing at all save ignorance of the story.
The story of the day, however, belongs to each of us. Buried in its nuances are the foundations of what humans hold in common: love and loss, prejudice and power, brokenness and belonging. Just as spring makes itself known, so a story from a millenium past juxtaposes suffering and hope, and breaks open new ways to perceive and live human life.
The story of the day is about Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, his recognition as a celebrity prophet, a hero-prophet of sorts. There is his final gathering of friends, and a searing personal betrayal followed by arrest, arraignment, judgment and sentencing. Finally, there is death and its reverbearting grief. Captured in different versions in the Gospels, the story is recalled in countless images. But the truth of it lies in Jesus’ human experience of it all. At every step, human senses and emotions are actively involved; there are characters to be empathized with, mirrors for the courageous; there are settings framed by the privilieged power-assaulting the vulnerable, and there is a plot that ebbs and flows with the tragedies of human fault and failure. Every passsage relentlessly strikes at the core of what it means to be human, to make decisions and live with consequences.
The story is not about the celebrated achievements, accruing wealth or winning admiration. Instead, it is about the intense work of simply being human, being alive, realizing self within a social context. There is nothing about that that can easily be dismissed or forgotten. Everything about that invites deeper reflection and thinking. It is not simply about where you are in the story, what character you connnect with or what parallel circumstances you have experienced. It is about learning that all of us, each of us, is somehow caught up in the story somewhere, somehow. It is about being aware of the contexts in which we are living, the systems we are part of the choices that we are making.
It is about believing that life, such as it is, is challenging and painful. There is a certain norm to that truth. While aspiring to goodness, we live with illusions and delusions that are hard to detect and yet somehow rationally justifiable. Most of all, it is about understanding that no matter where we have been, no matter what has happened, there is always the possibility of beginning again. And in that new beginning, that flirting with the chance of becoming a better person, there are multiple opportunities to grow as well as to fail.
There is a harsh edge to the story, to the sense of inevitable consequences, the kind we prefer to shield loved ones from, the kind we resist with righteous indignation. As much as we prepfer to believe otherwise, Life itself bears harsh realities. Even as we strive to shape the most comfortable of circumstances, life remains both challenging and difficult. The Palm Sunday story is the reassurance that Life is meant to be negotiated and lived: it is not a simple seamless path but a series of developments and events that fall within and outside of personal control. There is always that promise of new life just waiting to be accessed, a lot like watching Spring arrive after the bellows of winter finally subside.