Make Us Brave and Keep Us Tender by Lauren Hodgson
Spirited Reflection — Sunday, March 29, 2015
Rev. Lauren Hodgson is an ordained minister in the United Church of Canada, currently serving St. Matthew’s United Church in Toronto. She is constantly surprised by moments of wonder and the power of connection, and believes in the good of community for creative transformation.
We arrived at church holding protest signs.
We didn’t stay outside the building, but took our signs inside – the Palm Sunday liturgy that year created space to re-enact what we imagined as a “modern day” palm parade. Inspired by Malala, there were signs proclaiming a vision of education rights for girls worldwide; captivated by Idle No More, there were signs calling for indigenous sovereignty. Some shared hope for a just peace in Palestine and Israel, and others lamented our current climate crisis. Our worship lived out as protest… wailing and cheering as we shared with one another the issues of justice that matter to each person… the issues of justice that matter to our community.
As we shared stories that Sunday morning, I was stuck by the boldness of this small but mighty crowd. I was also struck by how tender we were with one another. Which inspired my Lenten prayer the past few years: “make me brave, O God, and also keep me tender.”
This week, we continue to find our way through the Lenten season. We mark a shift as we come to the sixth and final Sunday in Lent, as we encounter the palms, and move towards the passion. It’s an important narrative in the story of Jesus’ life and death, reminding us of the movements that continue to be inspired by prophets near and far.
The Palm Sunday story is an encounter that appears in all four Gospels, as Jesus makes a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It’s a profound move, as he wasn’t making his way back home to the place of his childhood, or towards his friends and loved ones, but rather, he was journeying into the place of his enemies. This year, we encounter that journey anew as we hear it told through Mark’s Gospel (Mark 11:1-11).
By this time, Jesus knows he will meet a violent death. It’s one of the tricks of this narrative: that Jesus – as well as us, the hearers – know something that the others don’t. We know that this is the road to his death, while those following on that day must have seen this as just another road… another leg in a journey still-unfolding.
Last year, I had the opportunity to walk along that very same road, during a pilgrimage to Palestine and Israel. On the day when we spent the morning in Bethlehem, we returned to Jerusalem in the afternoon and made our way near the Church of Bethphage, just over the summit of the Mount of Olives. And we embarked upon that road.
It wasn’t at all as I’d imagined. It’s a steep, narrow path, winding its way down the Mount of Olives. There were no crowds cheering – just a few groups of travelers solemnly walking down. Twice we encountered cars going up. Both were driven by friendly-looking priests, honking their horns as they came around the corner, ensuring they didn’t hit any tourists on the way.
We followed the route Jesus took so long ago. As we walked, I reflected upon Jesus’ journey on this same road, and the millions since who have come to this place to follow in his steps. And I began to feel pretty certain that Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he decided to host a parade. He knew what he was doing when he decided to send his disciples to find that specific donkey, and when he climbed upon that donkey, heading out onto the road down the Mount of Olives and into Jerusalem’s town centre.
Jesus knew that a donkey and a few palm branches – a simple parade – could be transformative in bringing together community. It was a chance for even a small group of people to get excited about a vision of justice, peace and reconciliation, and to celebrate that there was still hope for love to win.
Which is why the waving of palms marks so much more than a simple act of celebration. It was also a moment to stir the people into activists… to stir the people into saying that they wanted more than the oppression they currently experienced, and they wanted a king greater than their current ruler.
There’s a poignant discord this week as we mark both Palm and Passion Sunday. At the same time, our liturgical calendar embodies two contrasting moods and two differing emotions. Somehow, I’m still not sure how, I felt that discord on a quiet Wednesday as I wandered down a narrow path towards Jerusalem. I’m not sure how, but I know for certain that this is part of the mystery and call of this week, as we, too, journey from one thing to the next. As we do, may we take seriously this season’s call to speak truth to power. May we be brave in our struggle for justice, and tender with ourselves and with one another.
And may we not underestimate the power of a small and mighty parade!