The room was dark except for a lone candle lit at the front. Next to the candle was a basket and in the basket was a worn cross propped up against the wall. A faculty member rose from her place and stood in front of 50 or so students and proceeded to tell a story from her own life of redemption. And then, she invited each student to write something down on a given piece of paper. “If you could lay anything right now at the foot of the cross, what would it be?” she asked. Then, she invited the students to, as they felt called, come up and place their paper in the basket as the sound of Matt Maher singing “Lay it Down” filled the room.
This memory came to me as I sat down to write this reflection for Palm Sunday. But why did I think of this… now? As I pictured myself back in that room, there was just so much present in my memory that is absent now. A large group of students on retreat, for instance, all smooshed together in a tight room that barely held them. A small group of faculty surrounding the students, and a young teacher standing up in front of them, in person, leading them in prayer.
It was Lent then too. We were also approaching Holy Week at the time, and we could feel tangibly just how close the Resurrection and our Easter celebrations were. The seniors sitting in that room were only a couple months away from graduation. And as each one of them lay their needs before the cross, of all the many worries about the future in their heads, I can bet you money not one of them was worrying about a pandemic that could shut it all down.
There was also a lot in my memory that persists, though. The love of community still persists. The desire to be in that room praying together – it is still there. Faculty surrounding our students with their prayers and their time and their dedication – that is still there too.
And the cross. The cross is still there.
It is a constant that never leaves, never fades away. It is something that no virus or pandemic or social distancing will eliminate.
And those needs scribbled on scraps of paper and laid at the foot of the cross – they are still there too. There is still loneliness, uncertainty, doubt, confusion, fear, sin – even though the sources of these needs have changed a little.
So the cross remains. And the needs remain.
The thing that I just can’t stop thinking about, however – the main point of her talk if all else she said was forgotten.
Grace is still there for each one of us. The source of grace this Palm Sunday rode a donkey into a town where people had figuratively “laid the red carpet” down for him. Grace today came in the form of a king and later this week grace will come in the form of a cross. And it will persist.
No pandemic can take that away.