Palm Sunday. This day is an on-ramp for a kind of sanctified chaos. In one moment we hit glory and plummet in the next to tragedy. Our mouths fill with the richness of that final meal-before-the gallows, then our tongues dry and the pits of our stomachs sour in the fast. If suffering is simply the state of being out of control, this is Pain Week. It is all heaving and shifting and spinning and there is nothing we can do, except to stay with it.
This is what marks the women of this Passion Play: they stay with Jesus. When other people drift away, they stand with him. They do not have any answers, they can’t fix the situation, all they can do is stay with it. Refuse to leave.
This is the supreme spiritual virtue: the gift of staying with it. Just plain perseverance. You don’t have to have any special “gifts” to do this. All you have to have is the determination not to go home and channel surf when things start to swirl. If you can stand there when it hurts and not run away (whether by actual fleeing or feigning ignorance or drinking till numb), the capacity of your heart gradually increases until it can hold both gladness and suffering together. That is our salvation.
Slowly we realize that it’s no good trying to chase a life of ups and highs, sunshine and mountain tops. It’s not possible and, worse, it’s not a full and beautiful human life. The goal of life is not perfection but wholeness, making room in our hearts for everything. Everything.
That is the genius of Holy Week. It will take you through the whole gamut of human life. Heroic virtue and hideous cruelty, long hours when nothing happens and sudden dramatic twists; it will show you deep friendship and heart rending betrayal, great promise and utter loss, an intimate supper and a sponge soaked with sour wine, hymns and dirges, cries of delight and dereliction. You don’t have to “know what to do” with it all, you just have to be there, witness it. Look and keep looking. Embrace and hold fast.
Then the sun comes up on the first day of the week, and you have it—the peace that passes understanding, truly. You don’t know how you got here, why you’re still alive after all you’ve endured, but you are. And not just alive, but alive! Radiant.
Holy Week has come, and all you have to do is show up. Be there. Stay there. Refuse to leave until the sun comes up.