What’s Up with Pastor Todd 4-3-30

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 4-3-20

It’s week two of the stay at home order for the State of Connecticut. I’m sitting on the three season porch where I’ve spent the day in Zoom meetings. Late this afternoon I spent an hour on what has been a four year project of cleaning up our overgrown backyard. Otherwise these four walls have defined the limits of my physical movements. Spiritually, I’ve been preparing for Palm Sunday.

When I was a kid, Palm Sunday was the warm up for Easter. I remember lining up before worship in the Narthex with dozens of other kids waiting to receive my palm branch. When the congregation stood and the organ played the introduction to “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” our Sunday school teachers led us in a palm parade down the center aisle. The celebration was loud, grand, and performed with a packed house. It felt like the time my daughter’s fifth grade team won the Downeast Maine girls basketball tournament. Following the championship game the town firetruck led a parade down Main Street. Folks lined frigid streets, dark already at 4pm, to cheer the victors. There’s nothing so grand as supporting the winning team. And there’s nothing so innocent and blissful as children leading the parade.

I love the blissful innocence of the children’s Palm parade. But I can’t shake the heartbreaking irony of the Palm Sunday story. The same cheering crowds would be calling for Jesus’ crucifixion just days later. So if the Palm Sunday story is the story of Jesus’ “Truimphal Entry” into Jerusalem, the lesson seems to be that, at least in human terms, utter defeat can follow closely on triumph’s heels. But if we sit with the story for a while–for me that “while” is closing in on 50 years–we might widen our view and consider the possibility that God’s activity to redeem humanity extends beyond our conventional, self-centered definitions of triumph and defeat.

In this time of global pandemic the range of human potential is being put on display much the way it was that holy week when Jesus made his final journey to Jerusalem. We bear witness to heroic doctors, nurses, caregivers, healthworkers, and first responders putting their lives on the line for the sake of others. We notice common kindnesses among neighbors. Many of us are making an extra effort to connect, to help, and to encourage. Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, we also witness humanity’s less attractive tendencies: the tendencies of politicans to posture, the tendencies of rich people to use their privilege to serve themselves, and the tendencies of rest of us common folks to hoard toilet paper and Lysol wipes. 

Our job as Christians approaching Palm Sunday is to widen our view and to deepen our understanding: to cheer with the children, to let our hearts break as we recognize ourselves in the crowds that so quickly turned on Jesus once they figured out he wasn’t bringing the conventional, human triumph they expected, and to step beyond our limited ideas about triumph and defeat into the boundless, redeeming love of God. 

Author: toddyonkman

I am a husband, father, author, and Designated Term Transitional Pastor of First Church of Christ in Saybrook (CT).

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