Like poetry, the sky unravels the colors of decades in rich full hues traced gently over the horizon. There is an allure, an invitation, to see the difference in a world where beauty has an unrivaled space and truth triumphs over illusions and deceit. And the palms of this Sunday have found their way from replendent greens to the paler hues, still whole and flexible, and now woven into the symbol that ties it all together: the cross. Palm crosses dot the cemeteries, some tall and beribboned, others small and narrow, pinned to lesser graves. In their silence, the symbols speak loudly the simplicity of the Christian message: forgiveness.
The Gospel story shows all the fallacies of human beings, the adulation granted one moment and the mob mentality in another. Overwhelming fears. Power abused and misinformation rampant. Innocence devoured and violence demanded, finally satisfied. But there was so much more: humanity understood, accepted, and in the death of one, the chance for all.
Chronologically and gepgraphically, the story belongs to another time and place. It is aged by the images, even the language. There is so much more embedded in the palm and the branches, the Hosannas and the horror of it. The hopelessness of the crucifixion is not unaccompanied by bonding,community and love. Because the initial part of the story is the celebration of being together to celebrate Passover. There is tenderness in the moments of centuries of practice as the apostles gather with Jesus in the Upper Room, and the conversation rolls through the connections built in the past and alive in the present towards the future: betrayal and angst. The characters are personable, genuine, committed and curious, confused and uncertain, fully human. Celebration of Passover, the breaking of the bread and the institution of the Eucharist are close to overshadowed by Judas’ betrayal and human brutality and bitterness.
In the unimaginable loss of Jesus, a friend and rabbi, a leader and an anchor, those who waved the palms came to quiet, faced the human reality of incomprehensible grief. Each found the power of human reflection, building blocks to realizing the complexities of life and death: to be one among so many others, swept away by circumstance, overwhelmed by the unexpected and drowned by the suddenness. The moment made visible each one’s failings, not to those who heard the story alone, but to each of the characters themselves. It is Jesus whose simplicity in caring for his mother, in acknowledging his thirst, in naming his pain, who mirrors the suffering that life presents. And ultimately, it is how His promise is kept. His cross guarantees forgiveness to each of us, no matter the wrong or the weight, and gives us the chance to live with the certainty of a God who loves our very humanity, its discord and dissonance as well as its goodness and generosity.
His story has been updated and echoed in a thousand versions over the intervening millennia. But it stands still as a foundation for relations between and among human beings. Its very age testifies to the litany of centuries of attempts to find a perfect, narrow path to holiness and wholeness. But the truth of its legacy is so much more: the path is imperfect and far from narrow. Instead, it is wide open and free and empowering the forgiven to forgive and to live fully human and fully alive. The palm, after all, is flexible and easily woven into the symbol of the cross.