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Readings: Luke 19:28-48, Divine Love and Wisdom #14 (see below)
It’s a little hard to get in the spirit of Palm Sunday this week. The notion of gathering together in a large group for a parade has quickly become foreign to us. And additionally, we probably don’t feel much like celebrating. Blessed is the king? No thank you.
This is fair. We are not in that celebrating headspace right now. And honestly, neither was Jesus. As we heard in our text, as Jesus approached Jerusalem, he sat down and wept for the city and the people in it. Why was he weeping? He knew what was coming. He knew that many people would not understand what he was doing. He grieved for humanity and our pain. And this didn’t mean he was just play-acting the triumphant parade; he directed the colt to be found, he refused to rebuke his disciples for their praise. But, he understood the duality of the coming days. There would be resurrection but first there would be crucifixion. There would be the last supper but then there would be betrayal. There would an ascension but first there would be despair and fear and confusion.
We are all holding that great duality right now too, as we journey towards Holy Week in these unusual circumstances. We are seeing beauty and pain all bound up together, all around us. I spoke to a woman the other day (on an essential errand at an appropriate social distance of course!) about how difficult it has been for her to navigate these days with a newborn baby. Of course, these days are filled with joy for her; how could they not be? Each moment with a new baby is filled with wonder —and exhaustion too!—but there is nothing quite like seeing the world through the eyes of a newborn. The tiny fingernails, the soft hair, the magical baby smell. Everything is a miracle. And yet. She cannot fully embrace having a baby in the world right now. She can’t let her parents hold her baby, she can’t introduce her child to her friends, show her infant the world in the way she wants to. Every new infant development, a wonder in itself, deserves to be celebrated in community, and right now, physical community cannot be achieved. And so this woman grieves for what has already been lost to her family, what will continue to be lost in these days. She holds both the joy of new life and the grief of isolation in one heart, one mind, one body.
And so it is with all of us in different ways. We see the beauty of springtime all around us, but we cannot take a walk together. We are getting to experience more family time, while also having to give up events that are important to us. We are settling into a slow rhythm of days, contrasted with a high vibration of anxiety as bad news mounts. We see people and communities stepping up to support each other yet we wish it wasn’t necessary in the first place, and we are afraid it won’t be enough.
And so we might wonder why Jesus bothered to enter triumphantly into Jerusalem at all. We might imagine his heart heavy and his smile forced, nothing but a tiny furrow in his brow to betray his knowledge of what lay ahead. Yet he still did it…why?
I think it has something to do with embracing the fundamental duality of our experience. It wasn’t right to only celebrate. It wasn’t right to only grieve. The grief and the celebration were both fully real, fully manifested in Jesus. And in us. We see the origins of this reality in our Swedenborg reading, where we come to understand the essential nature of God as a distinguishable oneness. He writes: In the Divine-Human One, infinite things are distinguishably one.(1)
In particular, Swedenborg writes that God’s love and wisdom…
are one entity in such a way that although they can be distinguished in thought they cannot be distinguished in fact; and since they can be distinguished in thought and not in fact, we refer to them as "distinguishably one.” (2)
Meaning, they are both separate but not separate. Theoretically separate but not functionally separate. This is how I am experiencing my days, I don’t know about you. My grief and my celebration are theoretically but not functionally separate. Our joy in a spring flower makes us think of the person we can’t share it with. Our closeness with family brings ever more intimate appreciation of their personal losses. Our gratitude for being well is held within anxiety for those who are not. Our thankfulness and awe for those on the frontlines of care is balanced with frustration and unbelief wherever leadership has been abdicated. Grief and celebration bound up together. Beauty and heartache bound up together. We are made in God’s image and likeness, so of course we can also experience some small facsimile of God’s oneness of many things, God’s oneness of love and wisdom, God’s oneness of praise and grief.
I would hope that we would not fight this seemingly strange condition but rather lean into it, because we are built for it. God has built us for it. Or rather, God has built us to be able to experience both suffering and the growth that comes from suffering, both the weeping and the breath that comes after, both the despair and the re-alignment. This is not a fracturedness but rather true wholeness, true integration of multiple co-existing realities. And these realities do not merge, we do not finally learn that celebration is better than grief, or that grief is more honest than celebration, we finally learn that we are big enough, vast enough, safe enough to feel it all.
In the words of Tara Brach: “As our heart transforms suffering into compassion, we experience being both the holder of our sorrows and the vulnerable one who is being held.” (3)
We get to both celebrate and grieve, to be the holder and the held, the one who has gained and the one who has lost. God’s presence with us during this time is one of accompaniment, to both embrace us and expand us into new realities. Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem is such a poignant representation of this notion. He was grieving and discouraged and yet was still drawn forth into a greater purpose, into both action and sacrifice. He rode a donkey amid joyful praise, he wept in frustration, and then he drove the sellers from the temple and continued teaching.
Brach points out, in reference to a beautiful Sufi teaching, that when we recognize the universal nature of our pain, we can see how our suffering is “entrusted to us,” (4) rather than being something we must resist in bitterness and fear. How it connects us to each other and God rather than divides us. That when we breathe into the balance of celebration and grief, we can know that God means for us to be both comforted and awakened, broken down and strengthened. We are entrusted with the experience, not because we are special or strong but because we are human, because we are beloved, because with God’s help we are capable of living it forward in a myriad of brilliant, authentic, vulnerable ways. It’s okay if our palm fronds are stained with tears this year. God remains present, weaving together our dualities, loving us into wholeness.
(1) Emanuel Swedenborg, Divine Love and Wisdom #17
(2) Emanuel Swedenborg, Divine Love and Wisdom #14
(3) Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of the Buddha, p215
(4) Ibid, p216.
28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ” 32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. 37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” 40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” 41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
45 When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. 46 “It is written,” he said to them, “ ‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” 47 Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. 48 Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.
Divine Love and Wisdom 14
In the Divine-Human One, reality and its manifestation are both distinguishable and united. Wherever there is reality, there is its manifestation: the one does not occur without the other. In fact, reality exists through its manifestation, and not apart from it. Our rational capacity grasps this when we ponder whether there can be any reality that does not manifest itself, and whether there can be any manifestation except from some reality. Since each occurs with the other and not apart from it, it follows that they are one entity, but "distinguishably one."
They are distinguishably one like love and wisdom. Further, love is reality and wisdom is its manifestation. Love occurs only in wisdom, and wisdom only from love. So love becomes manifest when it is in wisdom. These two are one entity in such a way that although they can be distinguished in thought they cannot be distinguished in fact; and since they can be distinguished in thought and not in fact, we refer to them as "distinguishably one."