Here is my Palm Sunday 2019 experience, from the perspective of someone with chronic illness…
I walked into church, sat down and held my head. The music was loud, and every beat made it hurt more but taking medication for that now would mean less medication to be taken for potentially worse pains later and the side effects also needed to be considered as the fatigue was already bad and would be made by taking some pain relief. I was spaced out and dizzy and nauseous but I wanted so badly to be there. The start of Easter and my first chance to be back in church in many weeks.
After a few minutes, I decided I would need to take something to get me through the service but the medication takes a while to take affect so I continued to sit whilst I waited for the headache to fade. As I sat there and listened to the words of the songs being sung, tears filled my eyes. The people around me were fully immersed in worship and seemingly, whole-heartedly believing every word — ’cause when we see You, we find strength to face the day’. I didn’t feel strong at all. In fact I felt the complete opposite. I felt so weak. This sudden rush of emotions swept over me as I looked at people in their 70s and 80s stood up praising God with their voices, standing and raising their hands and yet here was I, a 26 year old woman, sat in a chair, lost in a crowd with my head in my hands, pain relief working its way through my system and wondering why I don’t feel God’s strength like they do. Just as I wiped the tears away, we were instructed that if we were able, to come to the front, collect a palm cross and follow the procession outside and around the church and back in again. This was just about too much for me as I watched the majority of the church collect a cross, follow the crowd and walk outside, singing and praising God. My first thought was, ‘Why God? Why can’t I do that? Why won’t you let me praise you like they do?!’ Then my mind went to the first Palm Sunday — Jesus entry into Jerusalem. I wonder what people like me did then?
The Triumphal Entry
11 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 Off they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. 5 And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. 7 And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 8 And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. 9 And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
Additional revised verses: And those who could not see, could not hear and could not walk, sat at the road side, a great distant from the crowd and from Jesus, unaware of what was going on, unable to get too close and participate. They loved Jesus so much and knew He could do amazing things in their lives but those with able bodies blocked them from getting near enough or didn’t offer them a way to express their love for Him in a way that suited their needs.
Obviously, we don’t know what really happened on Palm Sunday for those people who were disabled or chronically ill but we do know from other passages in the bible that in Jesus’ time and society, lepers were outcast, the blind were forced to be beggars and the lame were considered useless as they could not earn money to provide for themselves or their families. Today should be different than it was 2000 years ago, and it is in many ways. We have laws that enforce a certain level of equality but there are certain things that mean that either have yet to be made better or simply cannot be accessible to every single person. But the Kingdom of God is.
With the big focus in the UK being on politics and specifically, Brexit, at the moment, this is particularly relevant. In Heaven, there are no nations, but one Kingdom, and one over-riding, almighty, powerful King — Jesus. We might not have the power to control our circumstances but Jesus does and that was my mistake at church. I thought that God had given up on me. I wanted to praise Him and be strong and stand with my church family to worship Him but when I found that I could not, I gave up and got angry at God for my situation.
We are told in Luke’s gospel that when the Pharisees asked the disciples to stop shouting their Hosannas and Hallelujahs to Jesus, He explained to them that if they didn’t shout out, the stones would. This tells us that there is a close connection between the natural world and redemption. Paul said the entire creation groans for redemption, and from the beginning we see how creation was twisted and thorns infested the ground because of sin and the same can be said of illness and suffering (although please do not misunderstand this as me saying your sickness or disability is due to your sin, but rather because we live in an imperfect, fallen world).
Whilst those around Him were praising Him, we read in verse 41 that Jesus, was crying! Jesus is probably the only person weeping in Jerusalem that day. Why does He weep when He is surrounded by a crowd that adores Him?
Jesus wept as He took in the faces of the crowds of people who were spiritually blind to the Son of God. God is with them but they don’t recognise Him so they crucify Him, thinking they have done right by God! Jesus weeps over lost souls, defeated lives, people in the chains of sin without hope.
Let us not let our ailments, problems, disappointments on earth affect where we spend eternity. We need to give our stony places to God and praise Him for who He is and not what He has (or has not) done in our lives. He may be the King, but He is also the suffering servant who understands our situation and one day, will free us of our pain and suffering. All we need to do until then is wait on Him and recognise Him as our strength giver, provider, healer, friend, Father, Saviour, King, and Holy Spirit who is always with us.
When we stop singing because we have lost hope, the only way we can go back is to start singing again. So even if you don’t feel like, start singing and shouting praises to God and He will show up! That’s a promise.