lenten journal: tension


Palm Sunday is always a bit of a struggle for me. I feel conflicted, torn, not really up for the celebration because it doesn’t ring true since I know the rest of the story. I understand how Jesus’ “triumphal” entry into the city fulfilled the prophecies and made for good theological theater, but I also know the rest of the story. I know that some of the very people who waved palm branches and shouted “Hosanna” were in the courtyard at Caiaphas’ house, or shouting at Pilate to have Jesus crucified. Their hosannas ring hollow even though, perhaps, they meant well.

Many churches who follows the liturgical year save the palm fronds and then burn them to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday the following year, which indicates we understand the problem with Palm Sunday even as we wave the green leaves and line the parade route, which then leads me to believe the struggle I feel is built into the observance. On purpose. We shouldn’t take the hosannas at face value, or at least we should remember they are not the whole story. As Ginger said in her sermon this morning, Holy Week is a condensed version of our human experience, all the emotions stacked on top on one another. We have to live in the tension, she said.

The dictionary definitions for tension speak to being “stretched tight” physically, mentally, and relationally. Over the past years as I have struggled to come to terms with our American propensity to polarize most every issue and then to say that running to the extreme positions and screaming at each other counts as dialogue, I have found the phrase “creative tension” to be a redemptive and healing one. When our conflicting ideas stretch us apart, the creative tension in the middle, where we stretch ourselves to look for possibilities beyond the polar opposites, is the seed bed for hope and community. Perhaps, then, the same is true in the creative tension of Holy Week between Palms and Passion.

This evening I was cleaning up the kitchen and found a poem by David Ray that someone had given Ginger that is part of what put me on this train of thought this evening because it speaks to a creative tension of its own.

Thanks, Robert Frost

Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was, something we can accept,
mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
not able to be, perhaps, what we wished,
or what looking back half the time it seems
we could so easily have been, or ought…
The future, yes, and even for the past,
that it will become something we can bear.
And I too, and my children, so I hope,
will recall as not too heavy the tug
of those albatrosses I sadly placed
upon their tender necks. Hope for the past,
yes, old Frost, your words provide that courage,
and it brings strange peace that itself passes
into past, easier to bear because
you said it, rather casually, as snow
went on falling in Vermont years ago.

During Advent, some of the words I come back to most every year belong to Meister Eckhart, a fourteenth century monk:

We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to [a] Son if I also do not give birth to him in my time and my culture?

As I think of Frost’s hope for both future and past, for the grace to come to terms with “the selves we had to be,” I wonder if we would do well to paraphrase Eckhart’s words as we enter Holy Week, that both crucifixion and resurrection must also happen in our time. We must be the ones who wave the palms, who shout at Pilate, who take the money and kiss the cheek, who barge into the courtyard only to deny we know him at all, who run to the tomb, and who are called by name in the garden. The power in the story comes when we are stretched tight holding on to the story told in the gospels and to the one we are living out one holy week after another.



  1. You have helped me identify the feelings I have had every Holy Week. I needed your words this week. I have not found a church I feel understood and comforted in since I moved last September. You are keeping Holy Week alive in my heart and soul-you and Ginger have become my church family. Bless you both.

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