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Often on Palm Sunday I like to draw attention to the two parades that would have been taking place on the day that Jesus arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of the Passover. The parade described in the Biblical account is the one we are most familiar with of course. In this parade Jesus rides into the city on the back of a humble donkey, his followers lining the route, waving palm branches, throwing their cloaks down on the road and shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna to the Prince of Peace!”
Meanwhile, in another part of the city, in the parade that is not described in the scriptures but which historians tell us most certainly would have taken place, Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor would also have been riding into town. In contrast the the modest display put on by Jesus and his followers, Pilate would have rode into town with a great show of power and might. It would have looked something like the great displays of military might we see in our day and age when the rulers of certain countries parade with all their tanks and troops of soldiers. Pilate’s parade would have been quite a contrast to the Jesus parade making quite a statement about where Jesus believes true power comes from and where Pilate believed it came from.
This year, the pairing of the two scripture readings we have heard today brings to mind two different parades, not the parades of Pilate and Jesus, but the Palm parade of Jesus and the parade of those who carry the paralyzed man lying on his bed to Jesus so that he might be healed.
Throughout this Lenten season of recovery, we have held onto the belief that healing in many forms can come to those places in our lives and those places in our world that are the most broken. Gathering around the image of beach glass, shattered and fragmented, ground down by the storms of life and miraculously transformed into something beautiful, we have dared to believe that the holy vessels that are our very lives can be made new even in our brokenness. And we’ve needed to believe this because we have been worn down and we have been broken and fragmented over the course of this last year.
As we come to the end of our Lenten season and enter that time of the Christian year when we face into the depths of Jesus own brokenness brought on by the depths of society’s brokenness, as we face into the brokenness we all carry within us due to our human frailty, today’s pair of parades have an important message for us about the healing that we need. Placed side by side, they illustrate the way the healing of our corporate, societal, and systemic brokenness is inextricably connected to our individual healing. They pair Jesus confrontation with the powers and principalities that create systems of inequity and abuse through the story of his triumphant ride into Jerusalem, with the quieter but no less significant confrontation of the inner wounds that immobilize and demonize us through the story of the healing of the paralytic.
Together they give us an important clue to the link between individual healing and societal healing but that clue is easy to miss.
It comes during the story of the healing of the paralyzed man when after Jesus has forgiven the sins of the paralytic the religious leaders accuse him of blasphemy. Just to be clear, Jesus doesn’t forgive the sins of this man because he believes his sin has caused him to be paralyzed. He forgives his sins because he perceives a deeper wound within the man than his inability to walk. He perceives a deeper need. And then, he suggests to his critics that these deeper wounds, these inner wounds that we carry are even harder to heal than our outer wounds, harder but not impossible. What is easier to say, he asks “your sins are forgiven, or stand up and walk?” But Jesus doesn’t just see and heal the inner wounds of the paralyzed man, he also sees the faith of those who carry him. He sees their faith without any of them saying a thing. Their actions speak louder than words. Their outer actions convey their inner faith and their inner faith compels them to bring their friend forward for healing.
In all of this, the writer of Matthew’s gospel is teaching us that those forces, those demons with which we struggle and from which we cannot free ourselves must rely on a greater power to free them and that greater power must be made known through the community that supports and experiences healing together.
Perhaps what these two stories combined are really trying to say to us is that there is no individual healing without community healing and no community healing without individual healing healing. My freedom will always be bound up in your freedom. My healing will always be bound up in your healing.
I don’t need to repeat what we all know by now which is that during the course of the last year we have seen systemic inequity and the brokenness of our society laid bare. The most vulnerable in our communities have been the most vulnerable to contracting Covid-19. So it’s encouraging to see that with the vaccine rollout we finally seem to be getting something right. Those vulnerable people, the elderly, the homeless, indigenous people living both on and off reserves and lately those who are crammed like sardines into facilities where they process and package meat day in and day out are the ones who have been first in line to get vaccinated. Queue jumping is not only punishable by shame, people have been known to lose their jobs for doing it. For once the last are first and the first are last. For once, our collective attention has been turned towards those most in need.
Is it possible that somewhere deep in the soul of humanity we have actually been transformed by this pandemic? Is it possible that right in front of our eyes the sins of the past are being redeemed in the present?
Of the many articles and reflections I’ve read the last couple weeks about what we have learned a year into this pandemic more than a few have celebrated the ways we as individuals and institutions have attempted and at times succeeded at trying to turn the tables on the tide of inequity in our world. But there are also those who warn that when the reality of scarcity begins to set in again, our human inclination towards the survival for the fittest will also kick in. We’ve seen that already in countries holding back vaccines for their own citizens. We could see it when we have to start paying back all the money we have spent to keep ourselves afloat during this time.
However, if enough of us have been transformed like broken shards of glass made beautiful by the washing of the sea; if enough of us seek to be truly healed of what ails our broken world, if enough of us allow our faith to inform the way we chose to act and live in the world, then maybe, just maybe our hosannas, our shouts of “save us” will finally be silenced. Silenced not because we will have given up on Jesus and his peace loving and healing ways but because we will at last be saved from what has been killing us for far too long.
My freedom will always be bound up in your freedom. I will only be healed when you are healed. As we continue on the final leg of our Lenten journey of recovery may we stay close to the healer who leads us and our world through our brokenness and into the promise of new life and may we be the healers who offer that new life others.