Hope is Born!
There are some church folks who just can’t stand All Glory, Laud, and Honor. I am not one of them.
To me, the melody strikes the same notes of excitement in my chest as it did as a child, when we would gather in the open air with palm branches raised; a hush would fall, and then the faint whisper of the organ and trumpets from the sanctuary would beckon us inside, growing louder and more exuberant as we entered through the narthex, until finally we were surrounded by music.
All glory, laud, and honor
To you, Redeemer King.
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet Hosannas ring.
The glorying and lauding and honoring only lasted but a moment though. I was always disappointed that we didn’t linger in it longer, that brightness before the dark. But Holy Week had begun, and we were rushed headlong into the long telling of the Passion narrative. I sat there with my palm branch in my lap, remembering the brightness I had felt just twenty minutes before, now turned to the shadow of the crucifixion. In fact, this is literally the transformation my palm branch took, folded and twisted as pristinely as I could manage into a tiny cross.
I have been reeling at the shock of the pandemic we are currently living through – at the enormity and extent to which it has affected all our lives. While we have known about the virus for months, I did not see this coming. I never expected it to be like this. I feel like everything changed in the course of a single weekend and over and over my brain kept repeating, “But just last Friday I was visiting churches to plan a wedding. Just last week everything was fine. How did this happen?”
Thrown from palm fronds to the cross.
I imagine this earth-shattering disorientation is not dissimilar to what the apostles experienced following Jesus’s arrest – fear, isolation, disillusionment, disbelief. Just one week ago Jesus was teaching and healing and feeding. How did this happen?
When I was young, I longed to rush as quickly through Holy Week as I was thrust into it. Onward toward Easter! Good Friday was but a hiccup along the path to resurrection. The plot foil to set up the glorious resolution.
But the disorientation of Holy Week mimics the disorientation of life right now, and these days I am grateful that our liturgical calendar holds space for grieving. Shock and denial are, after all, the first stage of grief. Rather than rush through it or hide it away as we sometimes expect ourselves to do, our tradition graciously gives us time every year to sit in it, acknowledge it, and name it. To sit at the foot of the cross and ask alongside Jesus and the psalmist, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Psychologists know that we need to allow our feelings to move through us. Our God does too, apparently. We are human and experience the complete fullness of our being, from overwhelming joy to utter desolation. In his own incarnation, Jesus also experienced the full capacity of his beating human heart. There is much we are grieving right now, and perhaps our instinct is to dismiss our laments or trivialize them in comparison to what others are facing. But the reality is, life has suddenly been upended on us. We may be grieving the loss of employment, the death of a loved one, the friends we miss, or the inability to celebrate the joyful milestones of life like a wedding, graduation, or a birthday. We can name them all.
Lamentation is a faithful response to suffering. In fact, one-third of the psalms are psalms of lamentation. Rev. Aaron Graham outlines the structure of these faithful lamentations: First is a cry, that things are not as they should be. Then a request – “God, do something, save us.” And finally, an expression of trust, that though the journey may be long, God will indeed carry us.
Easter is coming - we long for the world to be resurrected, and I am grateful for the promises of Easter. But Holy Week is also a gift to us, giving us space to name out loud our laments. To not dismiss, compare, rationalize, trivialize, or run away from them, but lift them up and let them pass through us, knowing that we are not alone. I will end by saying that lament is not the same as despair. On the contrary, I believe that hope is born out of true and honest lament. When we are honest about our grief and our loss of control, it is then that we become most aware of our need for each other and our need for God. In the place where we cannot carry ourselves through, we realize that we never did walk alone.