Hope Does not Come with Hosannas: Palm Sunday in Isolation

Palm Sunday

“i don’t have a palm
to wave
my voice is hoarse
from wasted hosannas”

So begins Kaitlin Shetler’s poem “Palm Sunday,” a stunning lament for our time. In many churches, Palm Sunday begins with a procession, and the waving of palm branches, and the singing of hosannas. It’s messy and chaotic at times, with the kids and adults all together and the occasional donkey, and I’m sure each year someone gets a palm branch in the face from over-excited waving.

This year our processions are canceled and the hosannas get stuck in our throats and it’s hard to remember we belong to a greater community as we sit here, day after day in our ever-shrinking places of isolation. And while perhaps nothing feels triumphant or celebratory about the entry today, I think the lessons from the liturgy and Scripture offer us a path of observation for this strange and lonely day.

Nine years ago I spent Palm Sunday in a form of isolation myself. I gave birth to my oldest son via c-section the Saturday before, and Palm Sunday that year was lost in a haze of pain and joy, sleeplessness and ecstasy, blood and rejoicing. So too Palm Sunday takes us from triumphal entry through crucifixion, from the hosannas to the betrayal and abandonment.

Shetler’s poem continues:

“but you hand me
a branch
from the fig tree
you withered
and a coin
from the table you turned
and we sit in silence
until you say
hope does not
come with hosannas
and peace
does not come
but with
and withering
and whipping
and a lot
a lot
of waiting”

Hope isn’t necessary when there is certainty. Hope can only exist in darkness, a flame held close in each of us to share with each other, back and forth, keeping our lights fanned into flame, holding hope for the ones whose flame has gone out until they can relight it.

We sit with the betrayal and abandonment of our government who is all too willing to crucify the many in the economic interests of the few. The palms we would wave this Sunday sit in empty churches around the globe, waiting not for hosannas, but to be burned into ashes for next year’s Ash Wednesday and that metaphor seems all too apt right now.

But between the triumphal entry and the crucifixion in Matthew’s gospel come some of the most dramatic scenes of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus cleanses the temple, driving out those who seek to pervert the worship of God and the service of God’s people into a for-profit institution. Jesus curses a fig tree that had no fruit in its season and turned it into a lesson in faith. He stands in the temple and preaches stories of radical inclusion in God’s kingdom and prompts the religious leaders of his day to want to arrest him because the message that the kingdom of God was open not to those who deem themselves worthy but to everyone in the streets “both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests” (Matthew 22:10b) was one they deemed dangerous.

Those who view themselves as the cornerstones of our society will always react violently when they discover God chooses the rejected of society, kills fatted calves for the returning child, and it doesn’t matter what position one holds in the church or society, the Kingdom of God will be “given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom” (Matthew 21:43).

This Palm Sunday our palms are our hope and our determination to walk through this isolation and abandonment together. We wave them at each other through our calls, our messages, and our video chat screens as we find ways to reach out across the distance.

This Palm Sunday our palms are a renewal of our commitment to join in not with the powerful and the self-proclaimed deserving of our society but with the lost children and those out in the streets.

This Palm Sunday our palms are a renewed commitment to the greatest commandment: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus grants them additional importance by declaring, “On these two commandmments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40). And as the Hebrew scriptures are called the Tanakh for Torah (law), Nevi’im (writings), and Ketuvim (Prophets), I think it is safe to say that Jesus was saying all scripture–all of it–hangs on and must be interpreted by–the command to love God and love our neighbors.

This Palm Sunday we must sit with what a love of neighbor looks like in a society where not all can thrive. This Palm Sunday we are called to commit to the Shalom (total well-being) of the Kingdom of God and to fight to see that realized for everyone.



Today I looked up at a large cobweb swaying from my ceiling and I thought, how long has that been there?

I technically started quarantining a week ago now, but there’s been so much to do to prepare for extreme limiting of contact that I’ve been busier rather than less busy.

And now…

The busy-ness has been a shield of sorts, there are so many people to check on, I could stay busy all day every day right now. There’s virtual meetings to set up and get going, there’s still so much I could do.

But now…

My brain is telling me to stop. It never could all get done in one day anyway.

When was the last time I vacuumed these cobwebs?

On my ceiling… in my mind…

I baked cookies with my kids today, something I used to do a lot, but hadn’t done in recent years.

Remembered how much I love to do that, cleared away that cobweb.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll vacuum the cobwebs off the actual ceiling… or maybe I’ll leave them a while longer to remind me to check first for the cobwebs in the corners of my mind.


UntetheredLast night I had to have the, “no we can’t go anywhere and no we can’t have anyone over” talk with one of my kids. And then in answer to the question, “how long?”

“I don’t know, buddy, I’ve never lived through a pandemic before.”

And there it is, the unknown creeping right up into my five-year olds life. We’ve explained in the least scary terms possible. We’re staying home to help keep vulnerable people safe. We didn’t explain that I’m one of the vulnerable. We’re practicing love of neighbor.

I’ve talked to a lot of people this week and there’s a thread that emerges. None of us have lived through anything like this and we are grieving everything from regular social interactions to trips planned to enjoying march madness or other sporting events or what have you.

People are scrambling to keep different aspects of work or church or what have you going with video conferencing so for some this week has been busier than others, but strange.

And then there’s the school closures, the work closures, the coffee dates with friends.

The word that comes to mind is untethered.

Suddenly things that tied us into our lives have all been cut loose and great uncertainty and anxiety are all that are seemingly offered in their place. Days feel strange and it doesn’t take long for them to both feel very long, and start blurring together, making us feel untethered even in space and time, and it’s incredibly disorienting.

I think there’s a way through this though besides imposing schedules on our days, which may or may not be helpful depending on our personalities. I think it involves first of all compassion for ourselves and allowing the feelings of sadness and loss and anxiety to just be. We have a tendency as humans to minimize our own feelings and not allow ourselves to feel. We tell ourselves that things could be worse, or “at least __________ isn’t happening so this isn’t a big deal.” This leads us to be cut off from our feelings and also means we are prone to minimize the feelings of others in the same way. Feelings are just feelings and they are all valid. Just acknowledge them, and let them be.

After we’ve moved through a period of acknowledgement, this disorientation may be an opportunity to reexamine our tethers and see which ones are holding us to vital areas of life and which ones are holding us down. Temporary freedom from many of them may give us some much needed space to examine them.

It also gives us a perspective on how interconnected we are to the entire globe and I fervently hope that gives us a way forward to build a better society as we emerge from this historic moment in time.