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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Delvaux

Cobblestones, Grace, and Comfortable Shoes

The strangest Palm Sunday experience I ever had was when I somehow ended up as a lector at the Mass with Pope Benedict several years ago. The day was highlighted by far from holy and sacred moments - absolutely bonkers driving on the way to the Vatican, being shuffled to a local cafe for some brilliant espresso at 6:30 am, seeing all the security, and the standing…all the standing. I never appreciated how long the Gospel is until it is basically chanted as I wore heels on the cobblestones of St. Peter’s Square. My legs never felt so much like jelly. 

Each year since, as I wear much more comfortable shoes and listen to the Gospel in a language I actually understand, I still get pulled back to St. Peter’s. The surprising spring sun causing many to struggle, my wobbly knees, a sense of not quite knowing what is going on due to the language differences. Even when I sit in my familiar parish, in shoes so sensible even my mother would approve, I have hints of feeling disconnected, slightly out of place. These feelings always bring back nostalgia, but also lead me to feel for the apostles. 

So much within those last days of Jesus’ ministry likely felt just familiar enough - the streets of Jerusalem, the practices of Passover, the inside jokes shared as the day slipped into night, the routines of those up first and those night owls carrying on the last conversations of the day. Yet for all this familiarity, there were moments hinting at all that was to come - Jesus predicted the events in Jerusalem, the Gospel of John consistently speaks of his coming hour, Thomas declaring he would go to die with Jesus in Jerusalem. For all that familiarity, I always imagine the apostles had that thread of discomfort, of their own disconnect, that impossible to define sense something is deeply wrong. Then, the absolute shock of the trial, crucifixion, and death. 

It doesn’t surprise me then, that we have relative strangers stepping into the narrative. Simon the Cyrenian is required to carry the cross. Joseph of Arimathea buries Jesus. We don’t know why these men and not the apostles. What we can know through these men’s brief intersection with the Gospel that in times when we are overwhelmed, experiencing traumatic events, it is strangers who will be present, offering the support and presence needed. We can learn from Jesus to accept this with grace. 

Most of us likely also notice the women in this narrative. Many point out how it was the women at the cross, the women at the tomb on Easter morning ready to anoint the body. As women we point to this to show our space in the Gospels, to show the strength of women, and to maybe one up the patriarchy at this pivotal moment. All that may be true, but let’s be honest a moment. Those women were aching just as much as the Apostles, they were grief stricken, and likely even more traumatized by witnessing the horror of the crucifixion. Yes, they were there, they were brave, they were strong. They had to be. In glorifying their faithfulness, strength, and courage, let us not forget they were bone weary, terrified, and uncertain. Palm Sunday helps us see the whole picture of these women who are like the women we know, the women we are - women who are called strong yet internally can be holding on by a thread. Perhaps it is significant to note, the women were there together. The women on the street in Jerusalem, the women at the crucifixion, may we remember that in the moments where we have no choice but to be strong that we are at our strongest together. 

As I head into this Holy Week I find myself thinking of those strangers in my own life, those times someone spent just a few minutes to offer a moment of grace before stepping back out of my story and into their own. I think of the women in my life who form a community that will hold the last threads of my strength together when I cannot and for whom I do the same. I see how broken expectations and disquiet may be filled with hurt and trauma, but can also have moments of grace. In these faces, these selfless actions, these moments of grace, I see the presence of our God who loves each of us so much that he bore the pain of today’s Gospel and offers us the hope of dwelling in God’s eternal love and grace.

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