Saturday, April 4, 2009

Palm Sunday and liturgical manipulation

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. Am I the only one who wants to stand up and shout “Wait! I’m not ready yet!”?

Of course part of the problem is that I always feel slightly manipulated by liturgical time. The liturgical calendar says: it is now Advent and so you will feel joyful and in awe at the coming incarnation. That’s all well and good but frequently during Advent I am exceptionally cranky about the intruding values of the world and my inability to stay focused on Advent. Then I don’t seem to be able to enter into the intended meaning of the season and which in turn makes me more cranky about having to try and match my spiritual experience to the liturgical calendar.

When Lent rolls around it isn’t the least bit easier. I tell myself I should be focusing deeply and intensely on God during these 40 days, using the opportunity for spiritual growth and prayer. But then every year the reality of daily life seems to supersede my good intentions, I get busy and focused on necessary tasks and then suddenly it is Palm Sunday and once again I feel cranky and manipulated by liturgical time. (Do you begin to see a pattern here?)

It finally occurred to me though that this artificiality, this apparent manipulation of time in the liturgical year is the point, not an unfortunate by-product. By simply setting a particular time for a particular event in salvation history and saying that everyone will celebrate at that time is a way to remind us how time and God really work.

God works in God’s own time, not in ours. God irrupts into human history, in birth, in death, in resurrection, in triumph and in tragedy, in God’s time. The events of Palm Sunday, the great triumph that with its barely noticed, menacing shadows peeking out of the corners, echoes our own life. Great events don’t always come when we want them, when we plan them or when we have time for them. They just come and interrupt our lives and make us pay attention. Good Friday will come five days after Palm Sunday whether or not we are ready because death never comes when we are ready. Death will come unexpectedly as we cling to more time or it will delay and meander and take its sweet time when we are all too ready. Good Friday will come whether we are ready or not. Then Easter will come. It will come whether or not we experience it in our lives. The great vigil of Saturday night or the breaking dawn of Sunday morning may find us smothered in the reality of the cross and it won’t matter, Easter is here, new life is here whether you can feel it or not.

The liturgical year feels artificial and manipulative because it cuts through my illusion that I am in control of my own life, even my own spiritual life. I like to assume that I can think my spiritual thoughts and have great, profound insights on my own terms which I then report to God when I am good and ready. The relentless calendar of the year reminds me this isn’t the case. God comes when God comes. God acts when God acts. Like the child in the hide and seek game God always calls out “ready or not here I come.” In hope, in despair, in promise, in challenge and call, the time is always God’s time. God’s paradox speaks when the linear, calendar time of chronos becomes the God time of kairos by reminding us that every day is the day of God’s gift not of our own agenda.


Deanne, Obl. S.B. said...
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Deanne, Obl. S.B. said...

Personally I dread the Palm Sunday liturgy, with it's forced marching through the building (or the town), followed by long drawn out readings. Yet ... some of my earliest memories of spiritual formation are of the palm leaves in the mission church of my childhood.

Perhaps I need to re-think my attitude and participate more fully in this liturgical calendar experience. Some times it might not even be about me. And some times I may need to contemplate the juxtaposition of my feelings to those prescribed on the calendar.

Thanks for making me take another look.