Palm Sunday marks Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. The humble palms are the heralds of the Passover holiday celebration and the very public celebrity of Jesus. But the story has a timeless relevance and is not one trapped in the annals of time. Instead, it is alive with the the congruence of human experience and the textures of human connections. The Gospel of Mark exposes the moment of Jesus’ time in Jerusalem as entirely relevant to the realities of 2021. That journey by a band of compatriots yeilds the best and the worst of us: heartbreaking betrayal, the tragedy of injustice and the cruelty of derision. And in so many ways, it mirrors moments in our lives and times.

Those on-top-of-the-world moments are encased in our own century,too, but are no less real. Jesus’ practical self awareness enabled him to identify the almost capricious sense of celebrity. He had garnered criticism and negative feedback on other occasions. Here, steeped in the Judaic tradition of Passover, he gathers and then hosts the meal which seals the bonds of identity and purpose. But he intimates so much more: in the breaking of the bread, he is deepening the connections to one another, enabling and empowering a connection to share; even in physical absence, there can be spiritual presence. And so the story starts with the strengths and benefits of companionship.

But there is the bitter and brokenness of betrayal, a trust forsaken. Just as the start indicates the instatiable human appetite to connect with another, the next passages testify to the realities of human choices and behaviors. There is a madness to it that reflects the mob mentalities of our time. And yet, Jesus, as a victim, observes and interacts with a freedom and a confidence. He dared to accept the remarkable limits of what it means to be human; in fact, he lived them. There is the arrest and the questioning, the harsh rejection of the crowd who preferred to save Barrabus. Jesus’ presence becomes his voice, and his voice is entirely silent. There are no protests, no objection, so condemnations or accusations from him. He endures the cruel derision of the crowd, the blistering of the bullies, the humiliation of ridicule. Centuries have not diminished the human capacity for such cruelty, and social media seems to have multiplied opportunities for that.

Jesus even confronts the intricacies of social structures in the story of the Passion. There is the judicial ritual, the Pharisees and the calamitous crowd jutting up against the dispassionate Romans. Centuries later, national and ethnic identities aside, all lives are lived within this network of “invisible” systems that determine the course of social evernts. Jesus dealt with that reality just as we do. The palm is a reminder of human reality, our own included.

Finally, there were the women who asked for his body and there was the kindness of Joseph of Armithea. Those connections, that kindess, marks the love and relationships that sustained companionship and community, that ultimately overcame the cruelty and the injustices. Palm Sunday is an invitation to enter into the fullness of human relationship, to realize that there is an invitation to believe here, to model as Jesus does, to forgive the broken trusts and to keep working on moving forward. The truth is that understanding and appreciating Palm Sunday is really about understanding and appreciating what it means to be human. Suffering is an inevitable part of that, but so is hope. Limitations are human realities, and Jesus not only observes that but exhibits it in calling out to the Father, Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He knows, shares, the despair of human life.

To be human is to be complicated. Palm in all its simplicity, reminds us that life is difficult, failure is frequent, and Jesus is with us. Always.


“Terminal truth telling.” The therapist tossed that phrase out in casual conversation. She wondered at the compulsion to share deply personal stories publicly. Where was the thought about impact? Outcomes?Consequences? On this Fifth Sunday of Lent. the phrase still haunts and beguiles. So many voices have given narratives of personal realities; the stories and claims are overwhelming. Determining what is real and true is increasingly difficult. And yet, sincerity and authenticity are so necessary, so real. And so it is that the Gospel this week features Lazarus freed from the tomb in a narrative that whispers of rich relationship, clear connections and honest communication.

Relationship drew Jesus back to Judea, to Lazarus’ home. There are so many clues in the reading from John 11. There is honest conversation between Martha and Jesus, and there are the evangelist’s gentle observations about love being at home there. There is Martha’s understanding about the teachings of Jesus, and there is Jesus’ view of the situation as well. The words carry the complexity born of human communication: coming to grips with what is perceived, and becoming aware of what more is possible. So much is packed into succinct phrases; so much interpretation has dissected and analyzed the story. But at heart is the reality of the relationships, the connections, and the communicating. Lent is about each of those, and the story of Lazarus is a reminder that this is a caring, loving God wo accepts who and what we are as human beings and actively seeks the strength and sincerity of relationship.

The first and second readings are the anchors for this story of Lazarus. The first is from the prophet Ezekiel, and the words are a promise:

Thus says the Lord GOD: 
O my people, I will open your graves 
and have you rise from them, 
and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD, 
when I open your graves and have you rise from them, 
O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live, 
and I will settle you upon your land; 
thus you shall know that I am the LORD.
I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD

The real, the authentic, is resting underneath the miraculous in the passage. The key is coming to know the Lord, and rising from the graves is how that will happen. And the second reading is the promise from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It is about the Spirit of God living within. It is all about the connections. the reality, the communication between God and human beings. And so there is testimony in the Gospel that what really matters is believing and loving, being in relationship.

That said, the Gospel is something of a skeleton without the embellishment of intricate detail or the rich fabric of further dialogue. There is more than enough to convey the message, and little enough so the reader can enter the passage, the time. There is sincerity and authenticity in every word, and there is clarity and truth in belief. The story has an impact, and belief has a consequence, a clear, definable consequence. It is a story told with purpose, preserved with hope and shared on this Fifth Sunday of Lent with an invitation to believe.

In our time

We live in our time, born in years and months and days, with luck, stretching through decades. We are born to beliefs, experiences, possibilities; we are born well within the structure and shadows of human systems. There are layers to the human birthright– parents and lifestyle, class and race, ethnicity and gender. Those define so much of who we are, how we communicate and even what we dream and hope for. Some seem to escape the tentacles of these varied factors and burst into privilege and celebrity seemingly and enviably unscathed by human trauma or suffering. But there are so many more of us who have found nobility, honor and hope in the labor of simply being alive. For those, reality profers a rare richness and a consoling comfort, a promising pragmatism. The fullness and emptiness of the human lifespan finds meaning, significance and purpose in all the simplicity of being. And so in this fourth week of Lent, Laetare Sunday, it is the simplicity of living the Light.

John’s Gospel lingers with the image of light but does more than that. The opening verses describe the profound purpose of Jesus’ presence in the world: not to condemn, but to invite to belief in a God who neither castigates nor compels. Instead, this is a God who tenderly invites, shares and sacrifices for love. The believer, in response, embraces that love and then extends the same to others; the halo of light is enhanced and becomes even more of a gift.

There is a second part to it: God accompanies each human on the journey of living. Belief in God is all about that companionship. There is no magic promised, no disappearance of human suffering or mitigation of human pain in reutrn for belief. Instead, this is about living each day with a companion consistently searching for goodness, for the best of what it is to be human in even the most difficult of circumdstances. Goodness to one another manifests the God who revels in the best of the human spirit and accepts the broken, the failings, the poor chocies, and awaits another chance. Human beings are made co-conspirators with God for goodness and light for one another in the very midst of all the challenges of human life. Companionship: no condemnation, no judgment. But there is more tucked into these readings of the Fourth Sunday of Lent.

Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, the seocnd reading for today carries a striking line:

For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works 
that God has prepared in advance,
that we should live in them

Light and simplicity nestle here as well. There is the indomitable trust that goodness is there in God and all God’s works. Ours is to “live in them”. Notably absent are threats for non-compliance, or condemnation for choices. Instead, there is the beckoning of the brightest stars in the darkness of a midnight sky. “Living in them” leaves every human being, every generation, the freedom to live in our time and to explore and to choose, over and over, goodness. Laetare Sunday addresses that significance of choice as well in the first reading. It is from the book of Chronicles whose prose confides the history of the Jewish people and completes the Hebrew Bible.

Like a bridge, the passage links the themes of human failure and the forgiveness and generosity of God. It describes repeated poor choices of humans, the frustration of God, and then the opening, the forgiveness and new beginning: light and simplicity. There is an irony in the all too human emotional God of the passage. But there is also the ultimate conclusion, the new beginning, of building a house of God. Laetare Sunday is like that: it si an invitation to become a builder of a new world and a better life. It is a call that goes out to every human being in each generation, over all time. It is from God who is greater than, transcends huan limitations, and gently radiates Light in every time, every generation, every system, every life. And so we live in our time, within the human systems, companioned by God.

Simply Living

All around us are the signs of recovery from the pandemic: the rollout of vaccines, the relaxing of restrictions, the return to school and the gentle, tenative whispers of spring. A year of restricted and quarantined living has been something of a Lenten experience, a time to regauge, reflect and remember. In the past weeks and months, the best and worst elements of our culture have struggled for dominance, demanded attention and sought realignment and purpose. In the midst of all that, accompanied by the sharp chill of a cold front, the Third Sunday of Lent arrives. There is a striking simplicity in it, in the readings and the Gospel, that both beguile and befuddle. But it is there, consistent and insistent, waiting to be heard.

That simplicity is clearly present in the first reading. The Book of Exodus, a story of change and struggle, provides the framework, but the passage itself was perhaps the precursor of guides to well being and health.

In those days, God delivered all these commandments:
“I, the LORD am your God, 
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.
You shall not have other gods besides me.

“You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain.
For the LORD will not leave unpunished 
the one who takes his name in vain.

“Remember to keep holy the sabbath day.
Honor your father and your mother, 
that you may have a long life in the land 
which the Lord, your God, is giving you.
You shall not kill.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, 
nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, 
nor anything else that belongs to him.”

Behind the words lies the reality of choice, of human nature, of who we are and what we are capable of. The words address identity, belonging, respect, and interacting. They are about recognizing both the finiteness of self and the infinite impact each has on others. They are a testimony to the wealth and treasures of human life, and to the cost of living itself. Most of all, they convey the very complicated issues and concerns that every generation struggles with. In other words, these are words, lines, that capture how very hard it is to be human. But they also offer a rich possibility by suggesing the better ways to be, the choices that can enable us to be more and better than we were before. Best of all, there is a God who understands that very complex terrain and knows the range of emotions and the context of time.

It is all there in the Gospel of John. So often, the story of Jesus driving the money changers from the Temple is an affirmation of human anger, or interpreted with the stigma of stereotypes or even used to justify violence. But the truth of the story, the most powerful of lines, is often overshadowed by the vividness of that description.

“…But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.”

And there it is, halfway through Lent, a tiny caveat of truth and comfort. A God who understands human nature, who loves and forgives, acknowledges human limits, flaws and faults, and still invites us to make choices freely, to know ourselves and one another, to celebrate what it is to be human in ways that show honor and respect for each other and for God.

In a world grappling with the harshest of 21st century realities, taking a moment to consider the transcendent, the most basic and fundamental of human needs, can be done with the simplest of passages. We are who we are as humans; the Third Sunday of Lent is a reminder that we each bear the gift and the burden of that. And so does Jesus. Because of that, we are never truly alone on the human journey: the persistent love of God for each of us is there, and we have the choice to make that even more manifest for one another by living simply and simply living.