Laid out on the Road
Palm Sunday; Matthew 1–3
This Palm Sunday I woke up ready to catch up on all the things I hadn’t done with the power out for 48 hours. I had a long to-do list, with times for each of them so I could get everything done before this afternoon’s commitments.
I stepped out on to the front porch at 7am, ready to seize the day, but as I spotted the dark skys to the north, I hesitated and checked my phone for the weather.
“Thunderstorm in one minute,” I read on the screen.
Sure enough, it started pouring 30 seconds later. I took a step back under the roof of the porch. The hills rolled over and over again with the sound of thunder. I went back inside, pulled open the curtains, and sat down on my couch in the dark.
Maybe that was a minute I needed. Between a project at work with a tight deadline, a doctors office visit, and a tornado touching down in the neighborhood, it had been a week. I went and got my Bible — in the weeks’ busyness and stress, I realized I hadn’t touched it except to bring it out for a Bible study Wednesday night and struggle through writing some liturgy for Sunday.
I opened it to Matthew, deciding that today I would start through the New Testament again. I read how Jesus was born in the line of David. I read how the sweetness of his childhood was mixed with the bitterness and evil of infanticide. I read how John the Baptist came announcing his coming — telling everyone to “clear the road”.
I know what clearing the road looks and sounds like. These past two days when I have been driving through the neighborhood or standing on my front porch, I can hear the constant hum of distant chainsaws and I see truck after truck come up the hill to dismantle some tree, re-set some utility pole, or dismember some fallen branch across someone’s car. Most of the old trees of our neighborhood stand resolutely as before, except for the ones that have been knocked over like blades of grass, onto houses and powerlines, their newly-budding branches laid to rest across the road. In some places the damage is less notable; several more blocks east a friend has lost their home.
That afternoon, my roommate and I had been sitting in the living room watching the weatherman point out storms far away from us, when all of a sudden it got dark and windy and the sirens started blaring. We stepped out of the house and looked up and saw churning clouds. The street lights turned on in the dark, then all went out as our block lost power. A car speeding down our street slammed on their brakes when they got to our yard (most likely spotting the cloud above the end of our street) put it in reverse, and sped away just as quickly as they came — backwards.
Saturday morning I woke up groggy and walked down toward where we meet for church. Across the street from the church building, there is a small, fenced-in asphalt basketball court where kids play basketball. An old sign with church rec center rules is on an old tattered wall inside, and now a huge tree covers most of the court, laying down from the yard next door, having crashed through the chainlink fence and covering up half court. I stood there — purple wisteria blossoms draped in every corner, the sweet fragrance and beauty of a royal spring in a caged in asphalt lot with a tree crashed into its center.
And so this morning I am trying to wrap my mind around how all these things can fit in the same world: John clearing the road for Jesus, a tornado clearing a path of loss and destruction a few blocks away, and citizens of Jerusalem laying their tree branches in the road as their king slowly and steadily rides his humble donkey into his own gathering storm and toward that brutal tree.