Sunday, April 01, 2012

Living and Dying Palm, an addendum


My name is Tamara.  It was my parents' choice to name me as this Hebrew maiden.  Tamara is palm branch, like we see in the triumphal entry laid at the feet of the donkey-riding Messiah.  Crushed under the feet of hopeful crowd and donkey- hoof, the verdant branches return to arid desert soil.  Become dust again. For centuries the Church ground up the branches waved in worship on Palm Sunday, lived the cycle of life and light again, and marked the foreheads with the charry cross on Ash Wednesday.  

Each year I've been able to attend an Ash Wednesday service, I watch the foreheads of our community go from shiny oil to blackened grit.  Each sign of the cross a mirror over bodies all-too-familiar with death, sin, decay.  Even the least among us, the babies carried to the priest, darkened with the visible sign of invisible truth.  From dust we came, to dust we return.  

In the past I've said  I find it strangely peculiar that the very people naming ourselves after the Christ who took on dusty flesh in order to redeem peoples from their flesh, try so hard to forget the frailty of their humanity.  Who long only for triumphal entries without crucifixion and death, which of course means no resurrection and life.  We keep trying to make the Church walk on coloured coats instead of ground, thinking our mass-marketed spirituality and worship noise will drown out the hungry rumbles in our stomachs.  The creaking of our broken hearts.  The rattly breath of death blowing on our necks.  

This year I need to make an addendum.  I realized today sitting in my Sunday row how much I am to blame for hating the Christ who rode the donkey, how much I've been offended by his humility to move toward the people He knew would betray Him.  How guilty I am of standing in judgement of His mercy-giving heart.

This morning I spent a few moments looking at this work from Giotto, The Entry into Jerusalem.  I subscribe to a weekly visual meditation from an organization called Artway.  Each Sunday morning an image and a few words show up in my inbox and I choose whether or not to engage with them.

When I was walking toward our church building this morning, I wished I hadn't spent time with this picture.  I normally take pleasure in the choir of mourning doves in the trees that line the sidewalk to our building.  This morning I found myself wishing they'd tone it down a notch.  I was angry.  Angry because when I was a little girl my Dad made Palm Sunday a special day for me, because of my name.  Angry because I wanted to join in the Hosannas and palm-waving with joy.  But I spent time looking at this image this morning and all I could see was the difference in the expression on Giotto's image of the disciples' faces and the expression on Jesus'.   

See that gaggle of halos?  See the wary faces, the fearful faces, the you-can't-fool-me-I-know-you're-up-to-no-good faces?  That's me.  Or I should say, that's my learned-response, my sinful response to suffering and pain and abuse and betrayal.  The disciples had just spent the week trying to figure out Jesus' dire warnings about His upcoming death and, in Giotto's mind anyway, they were on guard.  They could not take pleasure in the Psalm-shouting crowds.

Living like Jesus would mean my face would change from guarded distance to a merciful moving-toward.  Knowing that it was His Father alone He could truly trust, Jesus rode upright and humble right into the very hands that would betray Him.

I do not like this truth.  My wounded and sinful self flails against it.  I want to save my Psalm-shouting for the triumphant, steed-riding Jesus.  I want to be the waving palm, verdant and lush.  I don't want to be the crushed, trampled palm.  I want to be the Living Palm, not the Dying Palm.  

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.  Hosanna, Jesus, turn my face toward Yours.  Hosanna, Jesus, turn my face toward those You love, including my own sad heart.  Hosanna, Jesus, save me now.

*artwork credit: Litania, Created by Jen Grabarczyk and photographed by Ken Wagner
Creative Commons Licenses through By/For Project
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