When I was younger I used to get so confused about how Palm Sunday came just five days before Good Friday. I was never able to understand how in five days the shouts of “Hosanna!” could have changed to screams of “Crucify!”. In many ways I still don’t fully understand how the Jewish people could have turned on Jesus so spectacularly in such a short time; but now, having looked at the story of Holy Week within the context of a journey of grief I understand the importance and relevance of Palm Sunday in a different way.
One thing that Palm Sunday shows us is that Jesus was alive, really alive, so full of life that people just had to take notice of him. And although Jesus himself was fully aware of the fact that he was travelling towards his death, and therefore for all intents and purposes “dying”, it didn’t alter the fact that Jesus was alive, he was here, he mattered.
We use the word “dying” to describe the state that someone is in but it doesn’t actually have any bearing on their state of being, until someone is actually dead they are alive. And let’s be honest, there is no real grading system of “aliveness”, someone is alive until they are not. Something that people all too often forget is that a dying person is still capable of living and experiencing life until the very end. They’re still alive, still here, still matter.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the film “My Sister’s Keeper”, but there is a scene that links with the “Palm Sunday stage of grief”, it happens just over an hour into the film and is quite pivotal to the story. It takes place on a beach and it shows us that Kate, the main character, although terminally ill, is still alive, still here and still matters. The family don’t forget that Kate is ill, they can’t because it has become a reality for their family now; but that day joy becomes bigger than the illness. Kate’s life is bigger than her impending death.
If the story of Easter teaches us anything it is that life is bigger than death. If Jesus was just another guy that died in a horrific way, we wouldn’t still be talking about him. It was Jesus’ life that picked him out as different and caused people to take notice, Jesus’ life is bigger than his death (a life so big in fact that death could not hold him!). Now I don’t know about you, but I want to be remembered for my life and not my death, I want my life to be so much bigger than my death. I’m alive, I’m here, I matter.
The starting point to any grief journey is the simple fact that someone was alive and now they are not; grief starts with life. And so the beginning of any expression or experience of grief is the recognition that a person was alive, was here and mattered to us.
Life is so often all too short though, and sometimes it can be so hard to focus on someone’s life rather than their death, especially if their life was very short or their death expected. But the fact still remains, death does not subtract from life; a life of just one day is still a life. They were alive, they were here, they mattered. I have a tattoo on my wrist that for me sums up this idea. I have a rule that when I look at my tattoo I remember my mum’s life and not her death, my tattoo sums up the mark she left on me and my life; a mark of her life that is not forgotten, rubbed out or faded by the fact that her life is now over. She was alive, she was here, she mattered and her life was bigger than her death.
So today, as we journey through Palm Sunday and we remember Jesus’ life rather than his death. I challenge you to remember the fact that life is bigger than death. Think about your special people who have died, but I encourage you to focus on their life and not their death. They were alive, they were here, they mattered. I also challenge you to think about yourself. You’re alive, you’re here, you matter; today make yours a life that is bigger than death.