On Good Friday afternoon, from the back of the bare church, the cantor startles us: “Behold! Behold the wood of the cross!” His baritone rouses us from weariness (Is 50: 4). Slowly his chant, along with the steps of those processing with the supine cross, envelop us in a common pace: Behold! Silence. Step forward. Behold! Silence. Step forward. Eventually the procession stops at the altar. Two people lift the cross vertically and hold it in place as we began the veneration of the cross. Each person makes their way to the altar steps to have a turn placing lips upon peeling bark and returning to our seats. This is the week we kiss the cross.
We do what?! My students, my children, those seeking baptism, my colleagues—I often bear witness to their incredulity at this shocking thing we, the church, are inviting. Yes, we kiss the cross. No, we do not worship suffering. We revere Him who suffered, Who suffers among us now. As in today’s Psalm 22: 24, we “show reverence.” How different the showing is from the sentiment! This is a week of return to care embodied.
We have two images of such showing from Mark’s gospel today. In Mk 11:1-10, the procession with palms paints a scene of “many people spreading cloaks on the road, and others spreading leafy branches.” They see Who is coming. Their hearts leap. They must do something! One person impulsively cuts a branch to wave in greeting. Then they all rush to wave and lay soft things to ease His steps. His presence sparks their exuberant care.
Later, in the gospel, Mk 14:3, we are invited to join the woman on her knees whose heart is so full she can’t help “breaking and pouring” a jar of spikenard oil upon Jesus’ body. In response to her recognition of the presence of Jesus, she rushes close to him. Her care bursts over his head and streams down His face. We can imagine His smile along with His words, “She has done a good thing” (Mk 14:6). Her small spontaneous act of showing love echoes God’s grand act of love, the one we recount day by day this week.
Friends, we are weary but we can be roused (Is 50: 4-7). There are good things to do this week together. A first opening could be the courageous naming of just what it is we carry to our proclamation of Jesus’ Passion this time around. I imagine we each carry several flavors of weariness stacked on top of one another. We miss each other and the ways of our common life terribly. We hurt in multiple ways, as does our land, as does our social fabric stitched tightly with social sin. We’re strained, raw, and empty. The tears of those broken by loss and need are our tears. And may they be more so, “sorrowful even to death. Remain and keep watch” (Mk 13: 34).
Yet, this is a week for truth telling. The whole story may also include that we carry with us some small tender internal places, “set like flint,” clinging obstinately, like holy fools, to what is life-giving and hope-sparking. We have been invited in new ways to follow gospel ways, to draw closer than we were before.
The Spirit slows us down with Palm Sunday’s images of recognition and greeting. Before we rush into Holy Week’s intensity, let us be slowed enough to ask: Can we recognize and honor these moments of Presence that we have carried in our hearts for a year? Our faith tells us this Presence saturates both our heavy weariness and our nascent hope. Can we see it? Can we greet it by name?
As today’s gospel directs, the next good thing to do together is proclaim the Passion anew. We must do so aloud and with others in whatever forms align with COVID protocols, even if they are not our preferred forms. What is important is that we must hear the story this Holy Week—the hard to hear story—of Jesus breaking bread with his followers for the last time, of Jesus arrested and put on trial, of Jesus tortured and making his way to the cross, of Jesus dying on the cross and placed in a tomb by friends, of friends grieving while apart from Him on the Sabbath.
With our weary hearts set like flint we must feel it all again and with openness to how the story will fall upon the soil of this time and place. Our proclaiming—out loud alone in our rooms, read from a phone passed hand to hand along the couch, Zoomed with a faith community—our proclaiming of the Passion witnesses to Jesus as Emmanuel. He is feeding us and forming us, even as an oddly construed us this time, even now in our place.
And then we must respond. We must show reverence. It looks like this is not the year for a congregation’s worth of lips touching the same beams of wood! It’s okay to miss our old ways and recall them aloud for the young and the newcomers and our own sore hearts. Then, the Spirit prods us: how else can we express our full hearts in lavish ways? Maybe our offering is hidden—clenched hands opened in palm-up prayer at last, a “Shut Down” button clicked, some stars as company for walking night prayer. Maybe our offering is shared with a few others—a Zoomed hymn, some surprise food left on someone’s porch, some art-making about gifts received and needs surrendered. The Spirit will show the way if we ask in trust: how will we kiss the cross this week?