Saturday, March 27, 2021

Palm Sunday: Two Faces

 As many of you know, our Abbey was founded in 1935 in Boulder, Colorado, by nuns from our German motherhouse, the Abtei St. Walburg.  We lived there until 1997, when the exigencies of a growing community and the generosity of benefactors prompted a move to our present location in Virginia Dale, Colorado, 100 miles north of Boulder.  This week, we grieve deeply with and for all those in Boulder who are suffering in the wake of the fatal shooting at a Boulder grocery store, not far from our former home. And, moved by the example of Jesus who prayed from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," we pray for the shooter and for all those whose lives are enmeshed in violence against others.  Please pray with us during this Holy Week of Jesus' passion.

On Palm Sunday, we are confronted by a sudden and troubling transition.  As Mass opens, whether we are participating in person or watching on live streaming or simply remembering Palm Sundays past, we gather outside the church to remember Jesus' moment of apparent triumph, when the crowds greeted his entry into Jerusalem by stripping nearby palms trees of branches and taking off their own cloaks to spread on the road before him, as if he were a king.  The words of the prophet Zechariah echo in the background: Behold: your king is coming to you, a just savior is he, Humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow will be banished, and he will proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth (Zech 9:11).  The prophecy will be fulfilled, but not as the crowds on the road to Jerusalem imagined.  We join them in spirit, processing with blessed palms in hand as we enter the church.

But then the entire tenor of the liturgy changes.  Palms are laid down and forgotten. We plunge very quickly into the somber reading of Isaiah 50:4-7, where we see Jesus' face in the prophet's description of the Suffering Servant is beaten and mocked. We sing verses of Psalm 22 with the refrain "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me," part of the story of the crucifixion as recorded in Matthew's Gospel.  And we hear the story of Jesus' passion and death as recorded by St. Mark (14:1-15:47, or abbreviated to 15:1-39). Where the story is read in parts, we suddenly hear crying out in the voice of s the crowd of spectators crying out to Pilate, "Crucify him!" (Mark 15:3).

In the space of only a few minutes, we are confronted with the truth of our own two faces.  On good days, we are more than willing to enter into the Church's prayer of praise in psalms and canticles.  "Praise the Lord" and "Thank you, Jesus" come easily when we know ourselves surrounded by God's love.  But there are other days when we might speak those words with our lips while our hearts are filled with bitter complaint against this same God who seems suddenly to have heaped us with trouble and sorrow.  In these past months of pandemic, all-consuming wildfires, and riots on every side, we have learned again that complaint is easier than hosannah's and palms.  

This Holy Week, we will hear both chapters in the life of Jesus and of his first community.  On Holy Thursday evening, we already see our own two faces in the disciples' protestations of undying loyalty when Jesus speaks of his impending death and their sudden vanishing act after his arrest just hours later.  We could avoid the whole contradiction, of course, by simply denying not Jesus, as Peter did, but our own reality as sinners in need of salvation.  We would, of course, then be proclaiming with all our frightened might that Jesus could have skipped all this week's drama because we really don't need the redemption he won for us.  

On Good Friday, we will hear Jesus saying to Pontius Pilate, "For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth," and Pilate responding "What is truth?"  He had evidently already decided that for him, truth was expediency, the value of his own skin, because he immediately went out and let the crowd decide who would die, Barabbas or Jesus.  But Jesus had said that not only was he sent testify to the truth but also, "Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” That's us, to whom St. Benedict says again and again, "Listen with the ear of your heart."  And that listening means always to keep an ear cocked for the words of the Word made Flesh, Christ, God's ultimate word of love to us and for us.

Real love is always honest.  Real love always tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in the courtroom of life.  And the whole truth is that both of tjpse faces laid bare in the Passion story are ours, whether we like to see it or not.  And the whole truth adds that we may indeed be laying down palm branches before our king and savior and then crying out "Crucify him" because we have recognized him as a danger to whatever complacent self-satisfaction we may be hiding behind. In both these sides of ourselves, repeated with far less drama in daily life, the whole truth is that are above all else loved by the One who thought death on the cross a price worth paying for us.  

Our best response is not to deny either face but to seek always, as Benedict's disciples, to allow the Crucified and Risen Savior to look upon as we are (he will anyway!) and transform these inner divisions into the wholeness we call salvation.  In other words, our best response is to continue the life of honest conversion to which we have committed ourselves.

Then on Easter, sinners and saints though we will still be, we can in all honesty and joy sing out "Alleluia!"

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