I was holding my palm leaves Sunday, Lord, waving them and singing as my daughter marched around the sanctuary. She held a tambourine and had friends to follow, so she let fly her normal self-consciousness and bounced on the downbeat while we in the pews sang.
She didn't know what she was celebrating. But then, how many in the crowds did that day so long ago?
It was a desperately beautiful thing to be able to celebrate at all. My morning before the service was spent reading about and mourning the deaths of worshippers in Alexandria and Tanta. Our Egyptian brothers and sisters gathered with their palms just as we did on the other side of the world; they chanted, they praised, they prayed.
Why were they killed on such a day of joy?
There is an ugly appropriateness to the timing, if we look for such things. You set Your face against the night by entering the Holy City as a king on Palm Sunday, but Your departure five days later was on the terms of the violent and powerful and afraid. Our brothers and sisters in Egypt have long known persecution, but year after year they choose to enter their sanctuaries for worship. This year, like You, they departed on terms not of their choosing.
Here I am again, staring down the age-old cruciform paradox: I will never look comfortably at You beating a path of suffering and calling Your disciples to follow You. The cross still disgusts and terrifies me. And yet, I will never cease thanksgiving that in being lifted up to death, You set Yourself eternally on the side of victims of violence.
O Lord of Tanta and Alexandria, of Aleppo and Sana'a, have mercy on us. O Lord of Tanta and Alexandria, of Aleppo and Sana'a, teach us to walk in Your ways.
Why did they, and why do we, show up Sunday after Sunday, year after year? Do You know, Lord, I haven't been stopped asking that question over this past awful year and a half? What's it all for, this gathering and singing and eating and departing? Haven't we better things to do, better places to be, better ways to spend our time?
The question lingers, growing or shrinking in intensity. Sometimes I go to church with my family. Sometimes I stay home alone. And yet I was discomfited and disoriented when I realized I might have to miss the service this past week. Of all Sundays, I wanted to be at church the day we wave the palms. Of all Sundays, I wanted my kids to be at church the day they march up the aisles with their tambourines and palm branches shouting, "Hosanna!"
Religious-born PTSD means most superficialities have been killed off. The spectacle isn't enough to draw me to church anymore, and I no longer have a job that requires me to be in the pew. My reasons for going on Palm Sunday were simpler, more body and home than anything else. I wanted to be with the people who recognize You as king. I wanted my children to wave the palms with the communion of saints who choose century after century the Way that leads through Jerusalem.
I still puzzle over why we go to this place or that, with this people or that people to find You, to worship You. Some days the answers I "know” as a Christian and ordained person do not suffice. There are things I will never believe again this side of exile, and things I never want to believe again.
My brother Peter asked You once, "To whom can we go?" when You knew some of Your disciples weren't sure they could follow You anymore. I used to feel his certainty, but I know now that there are other places to go, other paths to take.
I could walk away from a life of faith altogether. I have dropped it several times like a scalding pot only to pick it up again when I trust it is safe to do so.
I could abandon the faith in which I was raised and choose to practice a different one. I have looked elsewhere these past 19 months, scanning my eyes over different faiths and no faiths and everything in between. There are many ways of seeking and living what is good and right and true.
But both of these require the one thing I know now I can’t do: I can’t leave You behind. And since I cannot leave You, nor even wish to, it seems far better to learn again how to walk with You.
You, Jesus, who rode into the Holy City accepting the part given you with its glory and ridicule.
You who washed the feet of your disciples like a mother scrubbing up her young.
You who broke bread and poured wine and drank the cup of bitter abandonment.
You who dared to love when love lay down with betrayal and delivered you to death.
You who rose as its Conqueror.
I walk beside You, carefully, cautiously, a bit fearfully. As Your people have from Jerusalem to Alexandria and Tanta and beyond.
And yes, we are afraid.
But You are with us.
And where You are is where we want to be.