March 29, 2015
When people travel to the Holy Land as Christian pilgrims and not merely tourists, it is often said that they are able to “read the Gospels with their feet.” In other words, by walking in the footsteps of the Lord, it’s as if the stones on which they trod “speak to them.” This experience is especially powerful when making the short walk from the little village of Bethany down into the Kidron Valley and up through the gate of the ancient wall that surrounds Jerusalem. The geography is such that modern day disciples can be certain that they are following “The Way of The Lord!” Jesus made that very same short walk, quite likely, numerous times.
While spiritual experiences are unique to each individual, any Christian pilgrim who has been privileged to participate in the Palm Sunday procession from Bethany into the Holy City will undoubtedly rank it among the most profound and moving moments…not just of their trip…but of their lives. Commemorating Jesus’s triumphant entry at the beginning of His final week in an earthly body, the event is both international as well as ecumenical. People from many different nations, representing many different Christian Churches, walk in what is more parade than procession, best described as controlled chaos.
The control comes from “The Way.” The road is narrow and winding, oftentimes enclosed with high stone walls or abutting a dangerous drop-off. People need to be mindful of their step, difficult as that might be, due to the chaos. The chaos comes from the wave after wave of hymns, sung in many different languages…the blaring of marching bands…somehow out of place while, at the same time, totally appropriate to the occasion. This religious procession is chaotic because of the shouts and cries of children…the relentless press of people, walking shoulder to shoulder and moving forward at a quick pace. The sense of chaos is enhanced by the feverish and endless waving of palm branches. Everyone has palm branches!
A modern day pilgrim is able to walk “The Way” on Palm Sunday in high spirits, because we know that Easter Glory is only seven days away. In the midst of the controlled chaos, it’s easy to overlook that the parade route passes by the Garden of Olives where Jesus endured an intense spiritual, emotional, and even physical agony that was the prelude to His Passion and death. The high spirit of the parade also causes us to overlook Jesus’s own reaction to the controlled chaos as He made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
Is it possible that the exuberant reception which we remember today was controlled chaos for the Lord? Knowing what was to begin there in a matter of a few days, is it possible that as He passed by the Garden of Olives, The Lord’s human nature was once again tempted…this time to flee? Was that day something to be endured rather than enjoyed… the natural tendency to self-protect, held in check and controlled by His Divine nature which gave Him the courage and the strength to move forward into the week we now call “Holy”?
While it’s true that our spiritual experiences are unique to each individual, it’s also true that as a pilgrim people, we do have this much in common: “The Way!” When we walk the Gospel, we follow in the footsteps of the Lord. But, that does not mean that the journey is an easy one. It certainly wasn’t for Jesus. It is fraught with danger, conflict, and chaos. However, when we journey together, the temptations and fears…the conflict and confusion…the doubt and the despair can be controlled, because the Lord is with us.
Once again, Lent is over, and very soon, we will make our triumphant entry into the Easter Season. But, the season is short-lived, and in no time, we will find ourselves back in Ordinary Time of the Liturgical Year…and the ordinary chaos of our daily lives. It will help us to control the chaos if we remember what we learned by walking in Jesus’s footsteps…from the desert to the mountaintop and then on to the Temple that was in need of cleansing. With the Christ Light guiding our steps, like Jesus, we can stay the course. When we are tempted or threatened, we need to look back and re-experience the thrill of standing outside an empty tomb from which a dead man was raised. Better yet, when the chaos of this world threatens our ability to control our lives…we can turn with hope towards another empty tomb…from which burst forth the Glory of The Resurrected Christ…Who is complete control.