We celebrated Palm Sunday, the day Christians everywhere rejoice in the One who came to save us, paraded into town as we grabbed onto the hope He brought. I have heard the story related countless times, always a bit reluctant to join in the chorus, knowing much more would be asked of me through the church calendar in just days. Yet I can admit here that I am a much better Palm Sunday Christian than a Good Friday one. I am most comfortable following this man, this God among us, when things are going well. I can raise my hands and proclaim He is my king when I am filled with blessings and the mortgage is paid and the children are safe and happy. Yeah, party! Who doesn’t like a chance to see greatness, to snap a picture along the parade route of the biggest celebrity around? I am most fond of this humble man who sends out invitations to join His way of thinking, to be in relationship with His Father. I can celebrate with the best sideline believers, waving my palms and singing praises. The real test comes on Friday, the symbolism not lost on me as I mark that day each week, remembering the phone call that came to tell me my son had died on an otherwise unremarkable Friday morning. Can I be a real follower even on Friday?
The progression from Sunday to Friday offers me countless opportunities to live as if I believe even when my heart is broken, even when I am fumbling around in the darkness. I wish I could say I seize those chances, that I trust the Light will always shine. I wish I could say that I once did at least, until my son died and my faith was severely tested. The truth is that I struggle to see Him when the parade is over, when I am alone and faced with the choice to believe. I continue to look for others who also joined the parade but have kept waving their palms, those who know and speak the truth to me as disciples, who don’t shout out for persecution when life is at its hardest. No, I am definitely a second wave believer at best, one who gets converted through the life and walk of those who understood the first time around. When Jesus was carrying the burden of my judgements and anger and shame on that cross, even then I was focused on Him not being who I wanted, not fulfilling all of my immediate needs. I miss the truth over and over, rejecting grace in favor of misery.
I wonder what it will take for me to go all in, to just lay down my doubts and stop hiding behind the waving palms of others. How many times will I be shown through the example of those sitting next to me in church, those who refuse to let me sob alone as the praise team fills the sanctuary with music and all I can feel is sorrow? How many times do I have to experience the grace that overflows when I share frustrations and anger and faulty perspectives with a friend and find I am still accepted even as I am gently nudged into kinder thoughts? Coming to accept that maybe I will always need the witness and example of those more firmly rooted in their faith to keep me walking towards the promised land, I can stop blaming and shaming myself for not being good enough, strong enough to walk in a way that leads others as well. Offering grace and compassion to myself, finding space to be good enough, that is the first step in accepting Him and his unconditional love for me. The steps over the last few years have been leading me here, to this day when I can say, “Oh Honey, you did the best you could.” I realize now Jesus was walking with me, asking to carry my cross the whole time.
As I inch forward and stumble and start again, the relentlessness of God is undeniable. He sends folks to walk with me, to share their struggles and how He has answered their prayers while they reach out a hand and help me up. When I am confused and questioning, clarity comes in the shape of truth speakers sprinkling bits of wisdom and hope like glitter that sparkles and sticks to me even as I try to brush it away. He sends me out to care for a woman who has lost most of her identity and memories to Alzheimers, maybe the most unlikely of disciples solar, yet I find healing in recounting my own stories to someone completely unable to judge, someone who cannot take sides or evaluate my choices. She is forcing me to stay in the moment, in the conversation happening between us, to find niblets of joy without any self-consciousness. When she laughs, when she tosses her head back and her eyes sparkle with a memory, I forget about all the memories that hold pain and see that I can reorder my own to include ones that bring smiles. In the end, resurrecting every wrong or disappointment or humiliation is just too much work and adds weight tot he cross I keep trying to carry alone.
We are heading into Friday, days where I can chose to see who God really is, the fullness of His love, or I can chant persecute and wonder why He didn’t live up to His promises. Fridays are hard for me these days, yet I sense something rising within me. I may be becoming one of the disciples, after all. I am being offered another chance to be a believer even when all goes wrong, when my soul is crushed under the weight of mourning. As I watched the children at church parade up to the altar, waving their palm fronds, I felt pulled to let it all go and join them, to unabashedly trust with them that while Fridays are horrible, Sunday does come. Another witness, sent to show me the way, these faith-filled children may have been the last straw. As I gave the thumbs up to my Plum as he stood before the church, I realized I wasn’t just saying good job to him but also affirming with he was doing was good and right and beautiful. And I was agreeing to stay course, to keep walking towards the altar myself. Sunday is coming.