Looking At Our World Through A Palm Sunday Lens
A few days ago, I had the chance to meet online with monks of the Pax + Abbey monastic community. They are reading my book “How to Live” for their Lenten reflection. One of the monks said my book helped him to confront parts of himself that he would rather avoid.
I appreciated this monk’s courage. Lent is a time to examine the messier parts of ourselves. This particular Lent, as we witness the senseless death and suffering in Ukraine, I feel we are also being called to collectively confront the worst parts of our human nature, the parts that surely need repair.
We are, after all, members of the same species that bombed a hospital filled with patients anda train station full of families, that shot people with bound hands point blank in the head. Such is the brutality of which we humans are capable.
This kind of evil only begets more hate, more suffering. One elderly Ukrainian woman described how her 14-year-old grandson and two friends were literally torn to shreds by a Russian missile. “God says you should love your enemy. It is impossible. I only have hate,” she said. “I wish I could kill them myself, those who came here.”
Can I blame this woman? Would I react any differently?
There is much that resonates between the Passion narrative and the modern- day march to Calvary unfolding in this war. Ukrainians keep asking, why this happening, what they did to deserve this? Jesus’ followers likely asked the same questions.
Here was an individual who set out to heal, to spread inclusivity and love. Within a matter of a hours, Jesus went from having hundreds acclaim him to having a crowd call for his head. Adversaries told lies about him. Friends ultimately abandoned him. He endured one of the most excruciating ways do die.
The gospel stories of Holy Week sadden me greatly. Sometimes I even get depressed reading them. Perhaps you do too. It is then I reflect on the many hopeful acts of decency and compassion within them.
One of Jesus’ followers, Veronica, bravely steps out from among jeering bystanders to wipe the sweat from Jesus’ face. Simon the Cyrenian helps Jesus (albeit reluctantly, at first) carry his cross. The accused man hanging next to Jesus experiences a conversion of heart. In an act of tendersness, Joseph of Arimathea removes Jesus’ body from the cross, wraps it in burial cloth and lays it in a fresh tomb. Later. Mary Magdalene and other women put themselves at risk to return to the tomb.
Whatever nugget of evil we possess in our human nature, these compassionate acts and others like them that take place still today demonstrate that there is within ourselves a part that is stronger than any penchant for evil. That piece is the divine grace within us.
We know that the Passion of Jesus is hardly the end of the story. What follows the crucifixion is Resurrection. The great 20th Century spiritual teacher Howard Thurman wrote a beautiful poem based on Psalm 139 in which he observes that God remains present in every event, every encounter:
When my joy overflows and
No words contain it …
When night remains night
And darkness deepens,
When the evilness of evil is unrelieved
And utter desolation makes mockery
Of all that was true and good …
Thou art there …
As Holy Week unfolds, can we reflect, like my friend the monk from Pax + Abbey, on what we need to repair within ourselves? Can we redouble our efforts to imitate the compassion that Veronica, Simon, Joseph, and Mary Magdalene showed?
Can we remember for the sake of the people of Ukraine — and people enduring war and violence anywhere — that suffering is not the final word?
In carrying our own crosses and in witnessing the crosses of our world, can we have the courage to remember, “Thou art there.”