It was supposed to be a weekend of celebration, an opportunity to mark not only the beginning of Holy Week but also a time to start planning and dreaming of life with a baby.
Instead, on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, my wife, Julie, and I cried for hours – mourning and grieving yet another miscarriage and a continuation of years of infertility.
It’s been 16 years since that gut-wrenching day. Amid shuttered churches and a mounting loss of life from the coronavirus pandemic, my mind is wandering back there again.
Not to the hopelessness we felt on that Saturday – but to the hope that dawned the next day.
Our faith has always provided us with solace in sorrow and so it only made sense to pull ourselves together that next morning and head off to our usual Sunday service in downtown Colorado Springs.
The church that morning was festively decorated and filled with smiling worshippers. I looked around and wished I could be so happy. Instead, I remember feeling disconnected, nervous and out of sorts. It was only then that I understood what the writer C.S. Lewis once wrote, that “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
As the young kids of the church processed up the aisle to open the service wearing their red robes and waving palm branches, we sang the words of the traditional Palm Sunday hymn: “All glory, laud and honor, To thee, Redeemer, King, To whom the lips of children, Made sweet hosannas ring.”
The sight of the fresh-faced kids and then singing the line about children was almost too much for me. Would we ever have a child processing up the aisle with a palm branch in their hand? After so many years of disappointment, it was beginning to seem increasingly unlikely.
As a young boy, Palm Sunday always struck me as something of an odd outlier of a celebration. To go from the soberness of Lent to the festiveness of a royal procession – and then so quickly to the tragedy of Good Friday and then Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection three days later seemed so whipsaw.
How can your fortunes swing so rapidly, from triumph to tragedy and then to triumph again?
Over the years, I’ve grown to see that Jesus’ wild week is something of a metaphor for our lives. If you’re not in trouble today, hold on – you’re headed for it. But if you are in a dire predicament, don’t despair – the tide that goes out will always come back in.
God is always at work, even in the midst of great tragedy like the coronavirus. And yes, even in the lives of an infertile couple desperately praying for a baby.
In fact, I’ve come to believe that it’s when God seems most absent that He is often doing His greatest work.
But the very real substance of Palm Sunday is not that good things can come from bad. It’s that God often uses the weak and powerless to demonstrate true strength. It’s a reminder that He turns the wisdom and ways of the world upside down all the time.
On that first Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a baby donkey – hardly a symbol of strength and might. In that scene, I think we’re reminded that all of us are entirely dependent upon God. He doesn’t do things like we do things, which is why we often don’t understand what He’s up to, especially now in the chaos of COVID-19.
Sitting in that church that Sunday morning, lamenting our lot and choking back tears, my eyes wandered to a notice in the bulletin announcing the next week’s Easter Sunday sermon. It was to be preached by our pastor, and it was to be his last. Retiring after 34 years at the helm of First Presbyterian Church, Dr. John H. Stevens had selected for his theme a subject that lifted me from my despair: “The Difference a Day Can Make.”
Palm Sunday’s cry of “Hosanna!” – which means “God save us!” – was a desperate plea 2,000 years ago and an appropriate one now in our world’s time of need.
The coming of Easter is a reminder to hold up and hang on.
One day can make all the difference, indeed.
God never answered our prayer, at least in the way we were praying. Julie has never given birth to a biological child, but a week after Easter that year, we were introduced to a young woman who was looking to make an adoption plan for her son, who was due that summer.
Riley eventually processed with those palm branches – and I will never see or sing that song the same way again.
Wherever you are this Palm Sunday, don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. We may not be able to see what God is up to, but we can still believe He is working as we sing, “As you received their praises, Accept the prayers we bring, for you delight in goodness, O good and gracious King!”