Today is Palm Sunday. In the traditional Easter story, this is the first day of Holy Week. This is the day on which Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time. He came riding on a donkey, on a road lined with hundreds, if not thousands of people. And as he came, people spread palm fronds on the road in front of him and cheered with shouts of ‘Hosanna’.
Metaphysically, the story of Holy Week is a metaphor for the process of spiritual growth. Imagine growth as a Spiral. Each trip around the spiral follows a pattern, and each trip takes you to a higher level of growth.
There is a Beginning, followed by a period of Growing and Learning. In the Easter story, this is represented by the beginning and growth of Jesus’ ministry of healing and teaching. It is everything that led up to Palm Sunday.
Eventually, we reach a point of Mastery at our current level of growth. In the Easter story, this is represented by Palm Sunday. At first, it feels good. We feel skillful and relaxed. We know how to handle the challenges we face. And then, inevitably, something happens. Sometimes, we begin to notice questions that cannot be answered at our current level of growth. Sometimes, we just begin to feel a sense of restlessness or dissatisfaction with the ‘same old same old’. Sometimes, we are faced with challenges we don’t know how to cope with. Whatever the driver, we feel the urge to grow, and that urge gets stronger and stronger until we finally are willing to take a leap of faith toward a New Beginning.
But before we arrive at that new beginning, we have some work to do. We must release our old way of being. In the Easter story, this is represented by Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday. In order to grow, we must metaphorically ‘die’ to the old. We must release our old story of who we thought we were. We must release our assumptions about how the world works.
We will spend a period of time in the void. In the Easter story, this is represented by the time Jesus spent in the tomb. We have left the old behind, but we have not yet found our new beginning. During this time, we feel disconnected and disoriented. The more skillful we were at our old level of being, the more uncomfortable we will feel with the uncertainty of the void. Sometimes we get so uncomfortable, we feel a great urge to go backwards — to return to a time when we felt safe and capable — to return to a time when all of our questions had answers. Other times, we feel a desire to dive headlong into the new — pretending we have all the answers when we don’t. We want to skip right from our Palm Sunday experience to our Easter Sunday experience without going through the crucifixion and the time in the tomb.
And…this time in the tomb is when we experience our deepest spiritual growth.
Our world is going through an Easter experience right now as we move through this global pandemic. Though many were struggling, many had felt some level of mastery with our current world. And yet, the unanswerable questions were already there. Why do some have so much while others have so little? How can we provide compassionate care for those in need while still maintaining a healthy economy? How can we protect our planet while providing for the needs of our people?
Then in January, the first reports began to come into the news about a new virus emerging on the scene. As the weeks and months went by, we began to understand that our current skill-set and our current way of being were not going to be adequate for this challenge.
And finally, bit by bit, all of us have begun to take that leap of faith into the unknown. The old way of being has died. We have been forced to release our assumptions about how the world works. We have been forced to release our old story of who we thought we were.
The whole world is now in that void space of the tomb. And, as expected, we feel disconnected and disoriented. We fear what may come and grieve for what we have lost. Sometimes we get so uncomfortable, we feel a great urge to go backwards — to return to our old way of being. Other times, we feel a desire to dive headlong into the new — pretending we have all the answers when we don’t. We long to skip right to our Easter Sunday experience without going through the time in the tomb. We waffle back and forth between these feelings. This is normal. We see it in ourselves, our families, our friends and our leaders. And, we should have compassion for all of us.
As I was preparing to write this, I was searching for something to give hope and comfort and reassurance to all of you. I ran across a short blog post that brought everything within me to a complete pause. In reading it, I felt all my fear and grief and striving settle for a moment into utter peace. In it, I found for myself everything I wanted to bring to you. I knew in that moment that I needed to share it with you.
It was written by the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, who is a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and a Bishop of the Episcopal church. He wrote,
“Now is the time for which our faith has prepared us. Now is the moment when all that we believe can be put to work.
Now we can turn to the inner resources we have been developing over these many years to face the challenge of a world in desperate need. We are not afraid of this crisis for we have been made ready for it.
We have devoted our lives to the belief that something greater than fear or disease guides human history. We have studied, prayed and grown in the Spirit. Now we come to the call to use what we believe.
Our people need hope, confidence, courage and compassion: the very things for which we have been trained. We are the calm in the midst of a storm.
Stand your ground and let your light so shine that others may see it and find their faith as well.”
Now is the time for which our faith has prepared us. We are here to be the Presence of God, right where we are, each in our own unique way. We have the tools we need in our spiritual toolkit. Every experience we have ever had — every skill we have ever learned — every moment of our life — has brought us to the right and perfect skillfulness of Spirit.
I can almost hear many of you thinking — who, me? I don’t feel prepared. I don’t feel skillful. I feel scared. I feel angry. I feel disconnected and adrift.
I know. I feel all of those same things. It’s part of that ‘tomb’ experience. And…I know that we can feel all of those things and still know that we are expressions of God. We can feel all of those things and still know that, through God within, we have all the strength and wisdom and creativity we will need to see this experience through. And, just as we know it for ourselves, we can also know it for each other.
As you spend your time in the tomb, I invite you to consider some questions that will help you tap into your own spiritual strength and creativity.
- What is hard for you right now?
- What makes you angry?
- What makes you want to cry?
- What has helped you let go of your anger and sorrow, if only for a moment?
- What has helped you feel connected?
- What has helped you feel love?
- What has brought you a feeling of peace?
- What has made you laugh?
- In taking in all of the many creative ways people around the world have responded to this crisis, who are you proud of, and why?
- What is one thing you can do to ‘pay it forward’?
That is your homework assignment for this week. To take some of these questions and journal about them, or talk about them with someone you love.