The One Thing We Need to Know as Holy Week Begins

March 25, 2013 | 17 comments

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.

It doesn’t matter if 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 and 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.

palm branch

(Photo credit)
Edited post from the archive.

by | March 25, 2013 | 17 comments


  1. ro elliott

    We are two women who’ve been laying down palm branches in front of our hearts, so He can ride straight in…..this right here…I am joining in chorus…Hosanna…hosanna… Jennifer, thanks for this beautiful reminder.

    • jdukeslee

      Singing it with you, Ro. Every day.

  2. Elizabeth

    Teary eyed reading this. Remembering visiting my dad in the nursing home. He always became lucid and clear minded when I read the word to him or we sang hymns. Isn’t this a wonder?

    • jdukeslee

      And I was teary-eyed in the writing. And now again, reading your comment. xoxo.

  3. Stephani

    Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Jesus at the nursing home. He slides right in there amongst the broken minds and bodies and you don’t even see him at first, but when you find him when you expect to. In fact, I leave that place lifted up and praising God most every time I leave. Thank you for ministering to those who are so easily forgotten, and reminding them that they aren’t.

    • jdukeslee


      Great verb choice, Stephani. It’s pretty much like that, isn’t it? Happy Easter.

    • jdukeslee

      YOU are lovely. So glad to see you, for reals, last night. xoxo

  4. Lynn Morrissey

    I had an octogenarian friend like your precious friend in the nursing home who, while she couldn’t say my name, named the name of Jesus in song. “What a friend we have in Jesus,” she’d sing with jubilation and passion in her eyes. It bubbled up from the depths of her. What her mind had forgotten, her heart could not stop remembering! How I miss Myrtle! I am so glad that you still have your friend, and that she has you, Jennifer, and moreover: You both have Jesus! Happy Holy Week!
    Thank you for this post. It is exquisitely, poignantly written.

    • jdukeslee

      A beautiful recollection here about Myrtle. Thank you, Lynn, for sharing this.

  5. beingwovenzephaniah317

    Words that touch my heart, Jennifer. I have recently lost my Mama who lived in a nursing home for almost five years. I have known those moments when Jesus was in our midst, drawing us near to His heart even when it seemed impossible. These moments were not only with Mama but with other residents whom I prayed with, touched a shoulder, gave a hug, spoke a word. Jesus was with each of them at beautiful moments for me. I miss my Mama, but the Lord is ALWAYS with me. Glad I came by today. Caring through Christ, ~ linda

    • jdukeslee

      Oh Linda … You know this better than I. Your story touches me deeply.

  6. Lyn Cooke

    A place swollen with God’s presence….I want to be there! So beautiful. Thank you.

  7. Mia

    Dear Jennifer
    Your dear friend’s reaction to your visit just shows us again that there is a spiritual level in our lives that cannot be broken or harmed through anything this world throws at us!!
    Much love and a blessed Easter to you

  8. S. Etole

    So deeply touched by this.

  9. patriciaspreng

    Thank you so much for going, for helping her remember… God bless you with an Easter of divine milieu.

  10. Deb M

    beautiful! thank-you for sharing ~ it really makes me miss the wonderful “divine milieu” moments I had when I had the privilege of working in a nursing home in IA ~ it is absolutely true what Mia said: “Your dear friend’s reaction to your visit just shows us again that there is a spiritual level in our lives that cannot be broken or harmed through anything this world throws at us!!” I pray that there are many willing servants to give of their time and experience God with the elderly.


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