Palms Not Passion
This year, my Lenten mantra is, “Fill up on good things.”
I’m a vegetarian, so most days my mantra amounts to, "Fill up on even more carrots." And it works, I'm here to tell you. If you fill up on good things, you leave no room for junk. Give kids cookies, chips, and a banana for lunch, and the banana goes in the trash. Take away the cookies and chips, and they'll eat two bananas, maybe three. And it’s not just food. It’s everything. From the TV you watch to the friends you choose, the question is: What are you filling up on?
In the West Bank, the Quaker Meeting House in Ramallah might be the one place you can imagine Palestinians and Israelis living together in peace. Around a lovely wooden table in a sun-drenched room, Christian author and activist Jean Zaru shared her rich experience and faith with us, along with cookies and fruit. She knew that by the midpoint of our trip we would have had our fill of bad things, from suicide bombers to disputed settlements.
So she broke open her heart and preached. “Hope,” she said, “is an act of resistance. There's nothing abstract about it. Hope is not real until you bring it into your life, test it, prove it… Some people may say I am less because I am a Palestinian and a woman. No, God dwells in my soul and because I can see God in everyone, every brother and sister, Jew, Muslim, Christian. I do not worship a God who makes ‘good ones’ and ‘bad ones.’”
She’s not naïve. In 1948, when the state of Israel was created, her village was overwhelmed with refugees. Then her only brother, exiled, was lost in the war in Lebanon. She’s seen her share of bad things, but she has spent her life filling up on good things.
Now, with the peace process all but dead, she finds hope in her Muslim sisters in Gaza. As soon as the war ended, they began clearing the rubble. With half the schools destroyed, they salvaged books, put up tents, and began to teach.
In other words, they filled up on good things. They understood the pain, the cause for despair, the ruins all around them; no one could accuse them of being Pollyannas. And yet, in the face of those ruins, they each picked up a stone - and began to rebuild.
Likewise, confronted with a world full of violence, denial, abandonment, and ruin - what can we do but fill up on good things? Come to think of it, maybe that's what our ancestors had in mind as they were laying the groundwork for the Christian liturgical year. Holy Week is hard going - the betrayal, the mockery, the stripping naked of the body - fully human, fully divine - for all to see.
So don't rush Palm Sunday.
Fill up on good things. Fill up on palms, and hosannas, and the outright jubilant goodness of this holiday. The crowds recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the Chosen One - and if we have eyes to see, we can recognize him, too. We can celebrate and sing. We can be so moved by his humility and tenderness that we lay down our cloaks as he rides by, down into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, down into the ruin to come.
But now, for today and for tomorrow, too: Sing hosannas. Lay down your palms. Fill up on good things.
God of palms and God of parades, fill us up with good things as we journey deeper and deeper into the Lenten wilderness, closer and closer to the foot of the cross. We pray for this and for all things in the name of Jesus, Amen.