I spot her in a wheelchair, and her soft eyes are fixed on something — or maybe nothing at all. I cross the dining room of the nursing home to kneel down at her side.
“We’ve come to say hello,” I tell my old friend, adding a cheery, “Happy Palm Sunday.”
“It’s Palm Sunday?” she asks. “Oh.”
Her question breaks something inside of me. This question comes from a woman who had the liturgical calendar memorized, along with the corresponding colors for the altar. She always said a child needed to grow up memorizing Scriptures and singing hymns, because babies grow old, and their minds try to trick their hearts into forgetting things. And in those times, she told me, an old woman will need to rely on the investment she put in her long-term memory bank years earlier.
But now, at her side, I feel a hollow ache in my chest, like my heart dropped into my stomach. I want to know that she still remembers.
She’s looking at me now, when I blurt out the words: “Hosanna, Hosanna … Blessed is He who …”
I don’t finish the sentence, praying that she will. Her mouth opens, and the words bubble like a brook.
“… comes in the name of the Lord.”
And right then and there — hand in hand with an old friend — I get the feeling that the two of us aren’t alone. I spy the face of Christ in a nursing home, in a room swollen with God’s presence. Teilhard de Chardin calls it the divine milieu – Christ everywhere. It’s one of those moments when you know the place is swollen with God’s presence. And you’re grateful that, for once, you’re kneeling.
I fall straight into the soft eyes of my friend. And we repeat our duet, over and over again.
“Blessed is He who …”
“…comes in the name of the Lord.”
Maybe that sounds silly, but we couldn’t stop telling each other about the blessing.
For a minute, I forget she’s in a wheelchair, in a nursing home, in a place where someone else wipes her nose and puts pills in her mouth. We are simply this: Two sisters, eye to eye, speaking fluently the language of grace. The ground is level at the foot of the cross, and that’s where we find ourselves as Holy Week begins. This is the one thing we’ve all got to know: There is room here for each of us, and grace enough for all of us, and not one of us stands beyond His reach.
Whether you’re a pastor or a petty thief, a corporate executive or a cab driver — on Calvary, we’re all just a bunch of kids waiting for Dad to finish up at work. And the work is the cross, and it really is finished.
On Palm Sunday, the woman in the wheelchair and I are two kids, of flawed existence, with the certainty of a startling, cross-bought grace that meets us right where we are. We find ourselves in awe of the way that our flawed humanity butts up against our perfect Savior.
We are two women who’ve been laying down palm branches in front of our hearts, so He can ride straight in.
There on my knees, I remember anew how low Christ stooped for us, and how wide He stretched His arms.
I look into the eyes of my friend, and I think she remembers, too. She lifts a wizened hand, holding an invisible palm branch.
And she waves it.