Looking at this tree-like plant (behind me) reminds me of one of the major symbols of Palm Sunday – recalling the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem; and, how the crowd sang “Hosanna!” to Jesus by waving palm branches and making a roadway strewn with leaves from trees.
Indeed at this time of year in Ottawa we start to see more green outside. The snow has just melted and the earth covered by ice is exposed to rain and sun for the first time in months. Thoughts of earth renewed and life restored tease me out of the doldrums of despair, as I struggle to keep my spirit afloat during the coronavirus crisis we are all enduring.
Maybe then it is appropriate to call today by its other name: “Passion Sunday”. Passion Sunday launches us into Holy Week which culminates in Good Friday, the day Jesus died. Throughout this coming week Christians recall the stories surrounding Jesus’ path to the cross.
In fact a large part of the total content in all four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – make up the Passion stories. If we consider each Gospel as made up of major parts, or Acts, as in plays of live theatre or opera (e.g. Act 1, Act II, Act III), the longest ‘Act’ of each Gospel situates Jesus in Jerusalem during his last few days.
And yet, in our practice of faith, we conveniently steer clear of this significant though uncomfortable and disruptive part of Jesus’ life. In doing so we learn to devalue our own path of suffering as integral to faith in Jesus. We Protestants, especially, in our worship life normally leap from Palm Sunday (not even calling it Passion Sunday) to Easter Sunday avoiding everything in between.
These days during the pandemic, we don’t have the luxury of choice. We are being forced into our own Passion story. We are being asked to self-isolate. We are being asked to place restraints on our normal, social activity. And some of us are sick, and will still get sick. As social beings, we protest.
Relationship dynamics are pushed to the limit – dating relationships, marriages, faith communities, extended families, households. And the normal fractures within relationships, usually glossed over by the activities, novelties and loud noise of regular life, are exposed now as cavernous fissures separating us during this time of ‘physical distancing’.
At this time we need to take another look at Jesus’ Passion. The word used in the context of Jesus’ suffering is not ‘passive’. It is not ‘giving up’ in a fatalistic hands-in-the-air way. It is not rejecting, or running away from, avoiding or denying what is happening to us now.
It is not giving up. But it is giving it up. Jesus in his passion did not run away. Instead he faced head-on what was being done unto him. We, too, can choose to accept our current situation and ask God, Jesus, who knows this path well, to be with us in it. Precisely because we don’t have control over this circumstance, our lives, then, are about allowing life to be done unto us, which Jesus prayed in the Garden on the night before he died.So, we embrace our time of passion.
Passion time is like ‘fallowing’ time. In agrarian cultures, in farming communities, people become in tune to the seasonal changes. During long winter seasons, the land is not being productive, crops are not being sold and money is not being earned. But it is valuable time, in fallow, to refurbish and repair tools, equipment, and buildings. Down time, though seemingly ‘quiet’, is in truth generative time to press reset on the fundamentals of our community and personal relationships.
Passion time, though not easy to endure, is time nevertheless to both help and allow bodies and ecosystems to renew themselves. It is time to refresh and expand our awareness of what is, to reflect on successes and failures and decide what needs to be done differently once we are back to normal.
These fallow-time activities are not a waste of time, or time off. But, rather, this time can be seen as investment in personal, family and community well-being.
The fallow season is the bridge between suffering and joy. Keeping fallow means trying another remedy for the malaise, boredom and despair we all feel:
Stillness rather than incessant activity.
Simplicity rather than always doing too much and over-functioning.
Silence rather than raising the volume.
Being with whomever makes up your household rather than being distracted by a noisy crowd.
Take this time during Holy Week not only to read the entire Passion story in any of the Gospels. But take the time, also, to rediscover your relationship with your spouse, partner, children, grandchildren, parent, grandparent, yourself. Even if you live by yourself, your pet and even your plants.
I’ll be watering this palm tree and caring for it a bit more this coming week. The meaning of Holy Week is the Passion of Christ. Walk with Jesus as Jesus walks with you. The waiting, the watching, the patience of remaining in this suffering. The ground is still fallow. The earth is fallow. This is our season, now. Waiting for the life that will surely come.