Yesterday began Passion Week or Holy Week. In our church, we celebrate Palm Sunday by walking, as a church, through the parking lot or church property, carrying palm fronds, and singing or speaking Hosannas.
This year, our church is in a new location. We now meet in an urban area in a building whose first purpose is to feed the homeless several times a week. There is only one door in or out, so we couldn’t leave one way and enter another for our Palm Sunday processional. Instead, we walked around the block. We passed the entirety of the building that feeds the homeless. We walked past the coroner’s office. We walked through a less-than-lovely part of town, carrying palm fronds, saying Hosanna.
It felt strange.
A woman visited our church yesterday, and I wondered what she thought of walking around an urban block with a whole bunch of strangers, looking kind of strange. I ended up walking beside her, and after a minute she started to laugh. She admitted this was kind of fun and suggested someone should be filming us.
As we headed past the coroner’s office on an unkempt street with more gravel than concrete, she said something that I won’t forget. Remember I didn’t know this woman. I didn’t know what she believed or how she’d found us or anything about her except she was willing to be part of this bizarre spectacle, and by the end she was saying Hosannas with the rest of us.
“I feel like we’re putting armor around the church,” she said quietly. She looked at me. “We’re putting up a protective wall. Invisible wall against evil. Nobody can see it, but evil can see it, and it can’t come inside.”
Later I learned this woman’s name, although I lost track of her at the end of the service and didn’t get to talk to her again. I hope she comes back. Already I love her smile and her laughter and her insights. I’d love to know more about her and become part of her family. We’ll see if that happens.
All day I thought about those words, especially in the context of Holy Week, the week we remember Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem. He set his face to get there, because he had a date with death. He knew we are all vulnerable to evil. He knew we all need protective armor to keep evil out. It wasn’t as simple as walking with palm fronds. Jesus’ armor over us is blood. Because he covered us in blood, we have the ability to call on the Spirit with our voices and palm fronds, to laugh in the face of a dark world as we make spectacles of ourselves.
I’ve been around for a whole lot of Holy Weeks. Sometimes I don’t see it any more. It becomes rote and ritual, and I worry more about what quick bread to take to Easter service than what the week means. It was Jesus’ entire life goal, to set his face to Jerusalem, disappoint a nation who wanted a king, and die a bloody, horrible death. And yet, too many years I don’t get it, don’t feel it, don’t let that truth shake me to my very core.
During our service yesterday, a man was reading from Isaiah 52/53, speaking of Jesus being pierced and crushed for us, that our iniquity was laid on him, and before he finished reading his voice was breaking and tears were falling. He got it. He hadn’t forgotten or lost his passion for passion week. I listened to him struggle, and I looked at the words, and I looked ahead at a stranger who reminded me that I don’t have to bleed for safety now. I have armor, and the weeping man in front was reading about the source of this safety, the horrible, terrible event that rescued me, that covered me with protection.
I have said before that I’m thankful for tears. I’ve been a stoic for much too long. Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, I saw the words again, felt the pain again. The passion stirred. The Spirit spoke, perhaps wept at the memories of the beloved son in his moment of loneliness and isolation when God turned his face away. I heard that heavenly weeping, that shudder from the past, when God made everything right in the world by letting something go terribly, terribly wrong.
I hope you spend time this week reflecting on Jesus’ final week on earth, on his purpose, his goals, his pain, his blood, and his victory. The world doesn’t care, and I live in the world, so this week will look like most other weeks. But I plan to set aside time to think and read–and obviously to blog, which is another way I think–and let the stirrings of passion fan into a flame.
I am armored. I did nothing to get that. Evil can’t get through the wall. A very real person did that for me, and this week, I hope to grow closer to him and not take any of his life or death for granted.