Christ in us, Committment, Cross, Following Christ, Palm Sunday, Rev. Kathy Manis Findley, Sunday of the Palm and Passion, The Church-Christ’s Bidy, The Incarnation of Christ, The Old Rugged Cross

Palm Branches & Kaleidoscope Crosses

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The Kaleidoscope Cross

I collect crosses. All over my house, you will find crosses on the wall. Big crosses, medium sized crosses, tiny crosses and even jewelry crosses! Some are beautiful like my San Damiano cross with an icon of Christ printed on it. Some are ornate. Some are made of wood and others are cast in stone. Some are made of iron and some are simple, lovely crosses made from a palm frond. So today I found the image of the cross you see above. I call it the kaleidoscope cross. The cross is a bit over the top with the palms surrounding its tie dyed, kaleidoscope-ness. Still, it is surrounded by all those palm fronds, so it seems suitable for the day we call Palm Sunday.

People named it Palm Sunday because of all the waving, swaying palm branches in Jerusalem on the day Jesus went there trying to ride in on a donkey. And they named it that because of all the shouts of “Hosanna.” Maybe they even had some kaleidoscope crosses around on Hosanna day, or at least a kaleidoscope of cloaks on the ground. For Jesus and his followers, though, it was just a day to go to Jerusalem, but to go there in an unforgettable way. To be sure, it was a day of palm fronds waving furiously, shouts of Hosanna, cheering and a kaleidoscope of colorful cloaks on the pathway. If only that had been the only reality of that day! But it wasn’t and it isn’t.

In fact, I take exception to Palm Sunday. I take exception to our palm-waving celebration and our kaleidoscope cross, unless we also include the passion story of Christ. For those of us who observe Holy Week, there is no problem. We will relive the story of Christ’s passion all the way to the cross. But if you celebrate only Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday; you will miss the most important part — the passion of Christ. So let’s look at the story.

There is no doubt it was a strange parade. They sang and shouted “Hosanna” at the top of their lungs. Peter might have reached out and grabbed a little kid in the crowd. Then maybe Andrew reached up to break off a branch from a palm tree to give it to the kid. Maybe he placed it in the kid’s hand and watched the child join with the crowd, cheering and waving like mad at their king on a donkey.

There’s something about a people so beaten down with sorrow and fear of Rome. They had little left to lose. Maybe this is what made them join the band of Jesus followers, welcome them and wave branches. Maybe having little left to lose moved them to join the cheering and the singing, the dancing and the shouting. Some stripped off their colorful cloaks and laid them on the path. Jesus was there in the middle of it all, of course, calm and steady, solid and resolute.

I imagine that, if the disciples could tell us the story of that day, it would sound something like this:

Things got a little out of hand. 

But that never seemed to bother Jesus. He got tired sometimes. He needed rest and alone time sometimes, but he didn’t try to control us. He let us be however we were. That day we were happy, and he didn’t bother to explain or tell us anything to make us unhappy.

As for the Pharisees, well, it was one of the things they hated the most about him, the way he refused to control us. He didn’t seem to need to control anyone and, therefore, refused to let anyone control him. He didn’t tell us much either, and that bothered us too, if we’re honest. We couldn’t figure out how he might overthrow the Romans without taking for himself some measure of the power and control they exerted over us. But it bothered us less when we were with him, because when we were with him, we felt like we could believe anything and we really thought things would change when we got to Jerusalem — change in a big way.

To the Pharisees, it was blasphemy — all of it. The way we sang and danced in the street, the image of Jesus on the donkey like some kind of street guy playing king. It was all offensive to the Pharisees. But mostly it smacked of disorder and freedom, two things they feared and fought tooth and nail. 

“Rabbi, tell them to stop, make them stop!” they shouted. 

Jesus turned from watching the dancing children, the singing men and women. We watched him meet the Pharisees’ eyes. Peter’s hand involuntarily clutched the hilt of his sword. Jesus held the donkey still while all around him the crowd rose and swelled. There was amusement in his eyes and he smiled a sad smile. 

“If I tell them to stop,” he said, “the stones you walk on will rise up singing and dancing. You cannot stop joy, my friends, cannot stop praise that flows like a river. Heaven and earth are being un-damned. We will sing and dance while we can.”

If we ever needed permission, we had it. We cheered and sang all the louder, “Hosanna! Hosanna! All glory, laud and honor to Thee, Redeemer, King!”

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It felt like a fresh new day! Like everything we waited for was so close we could almost taste it. It was glorious.

It’s harder now, to talk about everything else that happened. When we reached the inner edge of Jerusalem, Jesus burst into tears and the words he spoke terrified and confused us. Confusion and fear followed us everywhere that week. It hunted us, hounded us. 

For a long time, when we remembered, we felt regret, embarrassment, deep sadness. We now see how little we really understood. But Jesus loved it. In some ways, it seems as if he carried our praise with him through the darkness he would endure. He must have focused on the memory of our singing when the crowds cried out for his death. 

When we look back on it all — all of it — it is so clear that Jesus’ first desire wasn’t to change us. It was to be with us. And his being with us, changed us, slowly into something closer to who he was, what he was. 

We like to remember it like this: Jesus carried us with him — our joy, our love — to the cross. And we carry him with us — his joy, his love — through every week ahead, singing and dancing or weeping in sorrow. We carry him, he carries us.

If only you and I had been there — then maybe we would understand the week that began on Palm Sunday as being more than a “Hosanna moment.” Perhaps we could get beyond palm branches and kaleidoscope crosses, because the cross of Christ wasn’t colorful at all. His cross was a rough, rugged, splintery, stark symbol of crucifixion and of death.

If only we had been there . . . we might have dropped our palm branches to the ground, running after him as fast as our legs could carry us. We might have followed him all the way up the hill, to the cross, the rugged one.

We might have followed him that day.  We could have followed him that day and followed him all the way to the inevitable conclusion of his life. We might have refused to escape his suffering that day and in the days ahead. And we can refuse to escape his suffering in this day. We can follow him in this day, learning about and committing to all the ways we might follow him.

It’s easier now really, because Christ lives. Christ lives in us. “The Church is His body,” writes Joseph B. Clower, Jr., one of the theologians I studied in seminary, who beautifully explained the true meaning of Christ Incarnate. This is the last paragraph in his book, The Church in the Thought of Jesus.

The Church is His Body. He clothes Himself in her humanity. She is His continuing incarnation. It is not fiction, therefore, to say that the Church can share in the suffering of Christ. If the Church will give His Spirit free course in her life, she cannot escape suffering. If the indwelling Christ is not confined, then the Church’s eyes flow with His tears, her heart is moved with His compassion, her hands are coarsened with His labor, her feet are wearied with His walking among [all people] men.

I must ask myself: Is my heart moved with Christ’s compassion? Are my hands coarsened with his labor? Do my feet get weary walking among the people who suffer all around me?

I guess what all of this means is that palm branches snd kaleidoscope crosses cannot even begin to symbolize Christ’s walk past the palms and on to the old rugged cross. Isn’t it a walk we must walk with him? Isn’t it a path of suffering we must take into our souls as Christ’s incarnation on the earth?

The choice is between a kaleidoscope cross and an old rugged one. It’s a choice we have to make every day.

The Old Rugged Cross
Performed by Sandi Patty


Ash Wednesday, Community, Cross, Introspection, journey, Lent, Life Journeys, Pilgrimage, Rebirth, reconciliation, Reflection, Resurrection, Soul, Spiritual awakening, Spiritual Discipline, Spiritual growth, Transformation

The “Soul’s Insistent Yearning”

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I have come to know Ash Wednesday as the time to draw nearer to my “soul’s insistent yearning.” That can be a frightening prospect, so I always approach Ash Wednesday with a bit of reticence, meeting the day with the self-awareness that I am trying to keep my distance from my “soul’s insistent yearning.” Being closer to one’s soul can well be a disconcerting proposition, but a necessary one. Ash Wednesday presents me with entry into the season of Lent.

I cherish Lent’s forty days, actually, always expecting change to happen in my soul and spirit. And yet, the prospect of repentance, renewal, transformation — and ultimately a personal resurrection — always disquiets me.

83D4AF68-A9AD-40EC-9D26-F0787CFE6D7BHow will I spend Ash Wednesday?

How will I approach the day
that will open the gate of Lent before me?

I have always thought of Lent as a spiritual journey we take alone, a solitary season of introspection and self-reflection during which we contemplate our own spiritual well-being and our relationship with God. For me, Lent has often been alone work.

So I make my Lenten journey into my alone places. I will know that God will abide with me, comforting me in my self-reflection, in my penitence and in my repentance. I will be mindful this Lent of my need to reach into my soul in search of places needing healing, constant and long-time wounds of the soul and spirit. I will search for the traces of my sinfulness, finding in my heart the will to seek sincere penitence, the sad and humble realization of and regret for my misdeeds. I will move beyond penitence to repentance as I resolve to change and to experience transformation.

How will I spend Ash Wednesday?

In whatever way I am able, I will receive ashes on my forehead imposed in a sign of the cross. I will recall the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I will utter as my prayer, the words of Scripture, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

As for the actual ashes, I have often wiped them off while in public. I never knew why, just that I was uncomfortable when others saw the cross of ash on my forehead. Perhaps I needed to keep my spiritual practice to myself, or hide the reality of my search for repentance. Years ago, I came across these words, spoken by Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, RSM:

We can feel a little funny with ashes on our foreheads, but for Catholics, that’s how we mark the start of Lent. Ashes don’t say we’re holy. They say we are sinners. They don’t say we are perfect, only that we’re willing to try. They don’t say we’re models of religiosity, but they do say we belong. In today’s world of loners and isolates, that says a lot.

~ Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, RSM

7FA58B58-0019-4809-B3B9-F956F3B06D7BThe essential truth, and gift, of Ash Wednesday is its call to come to terms with ourselves before God. Ash Wednesday says what so much of modern culture denies, namely that we are forever deceiving and justifying ourselves about our sinfulness. So on this day, when we contemplate our sins, when we pay attention to the ash on our foreheads, when we enter into Lent’s forty days, we must make prayer our utmost spiritual intention. So I pray we might embrace our Christian community that we might journey together for these forty days, praying for one another, seeking together the serenity, the reflection and the transformation of Lent, as all the while, we lean into our “soul’s insistent yearning.”

In that spirit of prayer, I hope you will take with you into Lent with this beautiful prayer from Rabbi Naomi Levy:

The rabbi in me would like to offer a prayer for you.
I pray you will learn to see you life as a meaningful story.
I pray you will learn to listen to your soul’s insistent yearning.
I pray you will learn to believe you can transform your life.
I pray you will learn to live and shine inside your imperfect life
and find meaning and joy right where you are.
Most of all I pray you will uncover a great miracle: your extra-ordinary life.

~ From Hope Will Find You by Rabbi Naomi Levy

Most importantly, pray yourself into Lent in the few days we have before Ash Wednesday. Seek God’s heart and seek the depths of your own heart and your “soul’s insistent yearning.” May you know God’s presence as you begin your Lenten journey.

Beauty of Nature, Cross, Faith, Gardening for the Soul, God, God's Faithfulness, Life Journeys, Psalm 118, Reflection, Serenity, Trees

The Cross in the Garden

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Although I have a very small yard, I do have a tiny garden beside my tiny front porch. This morning the jasmine in the garden is in full bloom filling the air with sweet jasmine perfume. The tiny water feature is making gentle water sounds that relax and heal, as rippling water tends to do. A bird is splashing around in the birdbath, the flowers are blooming, and the ferns are swaying in Macon’s gentle breeze. A large iron Celtic cross leans on the tallow tree, always reminding me where my faith comes from.

Now there is an issue with the iron cross in the garden. It falls over all the time. No matter how deep I place it in the soil, it falls over. Being an ardent tree lover, I refuse to nail the cross to the tallow tree. So it continues to fall over and I continue to prop it up.

Perhaps, as a symbol of faith, it’s appropriate that the cross falls over. My faith falls over all the time, and just as I continually prop up the cross in my garden, the Creator props my faith back up every time it falls.

I think of the Psalms where we read so many words of God’s help and protection as in Psalm 118.

I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the Lord helped me.

The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

— Psalm 118:13-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

 
Like the cross in the garden, I might fall over a time or two on my journey. That’s okay, because I know a God who props me up, holds me up, lifts me up, raises me up!

Thanks be to God.