The One Without the Palms

Captain Crozier leaving ship

We know what the people were doing, but what was Jesus doing as he rode into the city?

Most of us today are not gathered to celebrate Palm Sunday. If we are waving palms, it is at a computer screen and in most of the country we don't even have palms outside our door to grab and wave.

But this non-waving Palm Sunday made me remember that there was a person in that biblical story who was not waving palms: Jesus. None of the gospel accounts tell us anything at all about Jesus' demeanor as the crowds thronged around him, spread garments at his feet, and cried "Hosanna!"

We know what the people were doing, but we don't know what Jesus was doing as he rode into the city. I find it hard to imagine that he was turning to either side, giving everyone the Queen's wave. I don't see him responding like politicians to a cheering crowd, smiling and pointing with glee at random admirers.

I imagine that he was solemn and sober as he rode. Why? Because he knew where he was going and why. I imagine his heart was at once heavy with what lay before him and yet brimming with the love that propelled him to do it. The very next scene in the Gospel of Luke is Jesus weeping over the city.

This past week, all my thoughts about what Palm Sunday might have actually looked like were captured in the photo I have posted here of Navy commander Captain Brett Crozier leaving his ship, the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Captain Crozier had just been stripped of his command for begging the government to allow the 100+ of his sailors infected with Covid-19 to be removed from the ship and moved to secure housing where they could receive treatment without risking the lives of the rest of his crew. I watched this scene over and over--sailors cheering their captain, who risked his career and reputation to save them.

Captain Crozier walks off the ship alone, the throngs behind him, to the car that will carry him to disgrace for trying to save his crew. He turns to them only once--to salute them before getting into the car. Perhaps in the quiet hours that followed Captain Crozier, like Jesus, also wept.

That is what Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem feels like to me. It might also have looked like the city-wide clap in New York for health care workers--people cheering from the balconies they were forbidden to leave for those who walked somberly into danger, without the protective equipment they needed, so that others might live.

The people Jesus had healed, blessed, and taught--the people who had found hope and life in him cheered him. And Jesus loved each and every one. But his heart must have been heavy as he rode, and eventually the crowds would have thinned out and he would have walked on alone to his humiliation, facing them again only at a distance, with a salute from a wooden cross.

We don't need any palms this morning. We just need the gratitude, the cheers, the claps for those like Captain Crozier and others on the front lines of the pandemic who have, like Jesus, taken up a cross to save us.


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