The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday
Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 31: 9-16; Philippians 2: 5-11; Mark 14:1 – 15:47
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Several years ago, I went to the YMCA off of Augusta Boulevard, which was close to where our family used to live. As I approached the front door of the YMCA, I noticed a man sitting in a chair inside the building and I could tell, by the YMCA shirt he was wearing, that he either worked or volunteered there. When the man saw me approach the door, immediately he got out of his chair, and walked to the door. I could see that he was clearly limping.
It was obvious to me that this man had some sort of physical disability that made walking for him very difficult. In spite of his difficulty, he made it to the door before I did, and then proceeded to open the door for me. I could again see here that whatever physical disability this man had in his legs he also had in his arms and hands. It was not easy for him to extend his arm to open the door, and yet he did so with grace and beauty.
As I walked through the door, he welcomed me, and said “have a good workout, sir.” It was evident to me that speech also was something of a challenge for him. At this moment, a swirly of emotions went through me. In one sense I felt guilty – he shouldn’t be opening the door for me – I should be opening the door for him. But I also felt a sense of humility. Here was a man who in spite of his physical limitations did something of great hospitality – he made me feel welcome, and in his voice I neither detected resentment or anger. Later on I remember feeling in that moment I was standing before Jesus – in the form of a man disabled in body, but mighty in spirit. He blessed me.
It is out of that experience and others similar to it that I am reminded that all of us have a disability of some sort. Some may be better at hiding it than others, but we all have something that makes us weak. Part of becoming an adult, regrettably, seems to be about hiding our weakness, our disability, from others if we are able. Our society simply does not seem to reward weakness as much as it does strength.
This is a tragedy, because the paradox of disability is that it takes tremendous courage and strength to shine a light on our weakness. And in honoring our weakness, we become truly strong.
Today is Palm Sunday, a day when we hear the story of Jesus entering the city of Jerusalem in an act of great humility. He enters Jerusalem not upon a tall and powerful horse, as powerful Roman officials did at the time, but rather positioned upon a simple donkey, proclaiming for all to see that his authority came not from strength, military, or political, might; but rather from his humility.
Jesus was a master who understood that humility is the path toward salvation. And on Palm Sunday, it literally is. Today Jesus begins the journey that culminates in our redemption Easter morning.
Years before Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, Alexander the Great rode into the cities he conquered in magisterial parades upon his strong horse Bucephalus. Some would argue that Alexander’s parades were about appeasing his ego, while Jesus’ was a parade of humility; a reminder to us that whatever is strong, God makes weak, and whatever is weak, God makes strong.
So I am grateful for the man who opened the door for me that night at the YMCA. He was a great teacher, reminding me of the old lesson of how God often acts in seemingly small ways which yield mighty outcomes. An opened door. A small procession into an ancient, gated city.
Perhaps it is a mystery that God enacts heaven upon earth through the door of vulnerability. Perhaps when we honor and bring to light our weakness – our disability – we in fact do the same.