Yesterday, my family and I celebrated a pretty unusual Palm Sunday.
Using strips of paper for palms, we staged an awkward, bumping-into-each-other procession around the kitchen table and into the family room. Then we watched Mass on television—sharing the sofa with our cats and kneeling on the floor among the ever-present toys and video game consoles. It was not the most “sacred” of settings, but there is only so much I can do if I want to keep my family safe. I simply have to surrender to circumstances outside of my control.
As I was reading Sunday’s Gospel in preparation for our little gathering, it struck me that Jesus had to surrender to circumstances beyond his control as well. There was only so much he could do if he wanted to save us. He had to let Judas go forward with his plans. He had to let the crowd call for Barabbas’ release instead of his. He had to let the soldiers beat him and whip him. As the first reading said, “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard” (Isaiah 50:6). It gave new meaning to the truth that Jesus gave himself up for us.
Thinking about this, I saw that I have a choice, just as Jesus did. I can grumble when government officials tell me what not to do and where not to go, or I can choose to give them the respect that their office calls for. I can nervously read every news article about the latest developments, or I can choose to limit my reading and surrender myself and my family into God’s loving care. I can pile my kids into the van and take them to their grandparents’ house for a risky visit, or I can choose to accept our situation, stay home, and try to find God’s hand in it.
Thy Will Be Done.
This Sunday we’ll begin Holy Week with the image of Jesus surrendering his will, his freedom, his very body, to the “disease” of our sin. As the week progresses, we’ll read even more about his love for us and his willingness to give himself so completely. Then next Sunday, we’ll see how fully God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice and how completely he rewarded him for his faithfulness.
That’s the message I intend to take with me into this week: whenever I give something over to God, he accepts it. He takes it, fills it with his grace, and gives it back to me transformed into a different shape. It’s not always what I want, and I don’t always recognize it at first, but I can trust that it’s there waiting for me to take it. Just as God raised Jesus after he submitted to death on the cross, he will raise me up after I surrender to his will.
When all these restrictions were first announced, a fellow parishioner sent me an email: “No Mass?” he asked. “No coffee and donuts? No Communion? I never thought I’d have to give up this much for Lent!” We laughed back then, but today I’m hearing these words with new ears. Holy Week in the age of the coronavirus can be a time of deep blessing if I give it over to God and pray, “Not my will, O Lord, but yours be done.”
May we all have a blessed, grace-filled Holy Week—even if it means praying amidst video games or marching around your kitchen table!