Palm Sunday in world of Covid-19

Palm Sunday has a very different feel about it this year compared to last.

Then, news of the worldwide spread of Covid-19 was full on, our first hard lockdown in Melbourne in place, and people’s reactions radically various. One by one, planned events were cancelled. Our liturgies in Holy Week moved online to Youtube. Community began to emerge in new ways; Zoom Rosary had just been set up. This year there’s a feel of relief mixed with trepidation as we at St Peter’s begin our pilgrimage into Holy Week. Coronavirus figures released this week on the ‘Worldometer’ indicate that in total worldwide since the pandemic began there has been over 124 million Coronavirus cases, over 2.7 million deaths and just over 100 million recoveries. Still currently there are over 21 million active cases. What do we make of these figures? Each ‘case’ is a person with a name, life-story, connected into family and community. What are we to make of this? Just before Jesus enters Jerusalem, he asks two disciples to go, untether a colt for him. The account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem takes place in all four Gospels. It’s significant. Jesus processes into the Holy City riding a colt or donkey, as garments or leafy branches are spread under his feet. We tend to think of colts as humble, echoing words from the Book of Zechariah. But they were also considered regal. And here, as in Isaiah, I imagine Jesus’ face ‘set like flint.’ Stephen Cottrell in The Things He Did describes Jesus at this moment as ‘decisive and humble.’ Cottrell goes on, ‘Everyone seemed to think he could see into tomorrow. But all he could do was what he had to do. He knew it was of God; that God had called him to this hour. But he didn’t know where it would end except in confrontation and vindication: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your King comes to you; triumphant and…..riding on a donkey."’ Cottrell finishes this description, after the crowds gathered and dispersed: ‘(Jesus) didn’t look like a leader now. He walked towards Jerusalem as if in a dream, and the salt of his tears lay unwashed upon his face, plain for all to see.’

This is Jesus on Palm Sunday. Riding on a donkey in a world that really wants to push aside the reality of pain, death, disease, injustice. But even today Jesus challenges us to see our world honestly. Decisive and humble, he faces his own impending suffering without flinching. We too really don’t know where the Coronavirus pandemic will end. We don’t know where this time will take us.

Not looking like a leader doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t one. He is leading inside-out from that very place of our own uncertainty. He is full of the compassion of unwashed tears; leading by this very compassion. And perhaps for us today, by asking our empathy for each and every person who has suffered or died from Covid-19 since it began over 12 months ago; recognising each as named and forever held in the palm of God’s hand.

Carol O’Connor