Friday, April 3, 2020

Join with Jesus in instilling hope and courage: Hosanna – Save us!

Reflecting on Palm Sunday from Matthew 21:1-11

I fondly remember as a child, Palm Sunday was a huge celebration in my local Church in India. The preparations begin on a Saturday when our young people went to the woods to bring heaps of palm leaves to be distributed to all our children and to decorate our Church with palm leaves. Each child decorates a palm leaf with flowers, and as a Sunday School we went on a procession for about an hour or so singing hosannas on the streets of our town. It was a great event, with scented aroma all around, with shouts of praise all around and with some good food at the end of the procession, culminating in a Palm Sunday service. For our young people Palm Sunday is very special because in my Church tradition, Confirmations were given to young people on this day. I again remember my own Confirmation along with my cousins on Palm Sunday, which gave us a time to reflect what it means to accept and confirm our faith in Jesus Christ. Palm Sunday is truly a memorable day in the life of our Church, for it is an enactment of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, it was an opportunity for public witness on the streets singing praises to God and was a time of reflection as we were Confirmed in the faith of Jesus Christ. I really wish I can relive all those moments again today. As I write this, I am nostalgic of our good times at home at my local Church in my town in India, for I miss my community and family at home.

Having moved to live in UK, sharing of palm crosses with one another on a Palm Sunday made me think about the plights of farmers who grow on palm tree plantations, for I gathered that these palm crosses come from Africa as we fair-trade them, and reflect the passion of Jesus in light of the crucified communities today. Palm Sunday, an annual liturgical feature in the journey of faith, has always been special with lots of memories, thoughts and reflections.

None of us anticipated that Palm Sunday in 2020 will be very strange and different, where all the processions on a Palm Sunday are cancelled and sharing of palm crosses is not possible due to the Coronavirus outbreak across the world. At a time like this when we are all self-isolated/ quarantined/locked down at homes due to this virus what does singing hosanna means today? What does it mean to join with Jesus on his march for justice and salvation today? What is the message of Palm Sunday for us living in anxiety and despair? I now read Matthew 21:1-11.

Palm Sunday instils hope and courage:
Jesus journeyed on the streets of Jerusalem to instil hope and courage to those people living in fear. As we know the people of Palestine in Jesus’ time were living under occupation by Rome, and have been living in fear and despair for they have been exploited and oppressed by the Roman empire. It was a usual practice of the Roman army to conduct a military parade with horses on the streets of Jerusalem prior to the festival of Passover as a sign of their authoritarian power and rule, for their arms and weapons were at public display to frighten and threaten people who are subjective to them. Year after year, the occupied people have witnessed these military parades of the army in the streets and have been living in fear and hopelessness. Therefore, Jesus’s procession into the city is a march of counter-hegemony, contesting against the oppressive regimes, parading on a donkey with people holding palm branches, which was their yearning for the coming of an alternative kingdom as against the kingdom of Rome. Jesus was bold in leading this parade, for he wants to instil hope and courage among his community. To the surprise of everyone there, huge crowds turned up to this Jesus parade of hope singing shouts of praise on the streets of Jerusalem, which was heavily guarded by the Roman military. In our context today, when we live in fear, anxiety, hopelessness, frustration due to the Coronavirus outbreak all around the world, the message of Palm Sunday is that Jesus is on a journey instilling hope and courage to all people of the world, perhaps doing it in his alternative ways like journeying on a donkey and a colt. Did anyone think that salvation can come from a person journeying on a donkey?

Palm Sunday Moments today:
Last two Thursdays, we all came out on our street to clap and drum for the carers, for nurses, for doctors, for people working on super markets and for all those key workers. We as a family came out at 7.55pm thinking only we might be the ones clapping, but to our surprise as the clock ticked 7.57pm, lots of people came out from their homes, came out of self-isolation, each standing in front of their homes came out on our street to clap for the carers and cheering for their fantastic work, who are risking their lives in saving the lives of many people today. For me, that was the Palm Sunday moment when we all came out on the street, for those claps and sounds of the drums and plates were the unheard hosannas, for everyone on the street expressed their yearning and longing for healing by joining to clap for carers.

I heard in those claps for carers – a hosanna – a call to save the lives of the people affected by this virus now.
I heard in those claps for carers – a hosanna – a call to save our world from this pandemic
I heard in those claps for carers – a hosanna – a call to save our health system, our NHS
I heard in those claps for carers – a hosanna – a call to support one another by showing care
I heard in those claps for carers – a hosanna – a call to be united as a community in fighting this virus
I heard in those claps for carers – a hosanna – a cry of the farmers, a cry of the migrants, a cry of the refugees, a cry of people in Gaza, a cry of the homeless people, a cry of the creation to save them from death.

Palm Sunday in silence:
On the journey that Jesus lead to Jerusalem, except for the instructions he gave to his disciples prior to the parade, there is no record of Jesus’ words on the journey. In the cheering of the crowd and singing hosannas, why was Jesus silent? How do we understand the silence of Jesus on this journey? Jesus’ silence on a Palm Sunday parade might have been an expression of his solidarity with the anger of the people against the fear of Rome. Jesus’ silence might have been part of his alternative kingship that is not built on mere words, but on actions, an act of protest against the pompous shouts cheering the emperor. Jesus perhaps might be on a silent prayer asking God for God’s healing to the creation there amidst the shouts of the crowds. This parade at Jerusalem was interesting in many ways, for Jesus was travelling on a donkey and a colt and he was silent not provoking people to shout chants for his glory as a preparation in prayer asking God to save the creation from fear. For our times today, may be when we are living in isolation, we are called to join with Jesus in silence praying to save this our creation from this virus and choose humble acts of kindness in caring for one another.

It is not the shouts that matter, it is actions of prayer and kindness that matters;
it is not the processions that matter, it is calling on God in isolation and in silence that matters;
it is not mere repetitions that matter, it is recognising the act of God in our midst that matters.

May God in Jesus grant us all that hope and courage during these times and explore hosannas in our midst today and implore God’s action for us. Let our actions speak more louder than our words and shouts.

Have a meaningful Palm Sunday and Holy Week.

Rev. Dr. Raj Bharat Patta
3rd April 2020

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you Raj for letting us share in your nostalgia of home in India, so vivid. Your meditation on Palm Sunday is inspiring and very helpful today. Peace be with you, Nora.

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