Palms and Possibilities

by Steve Matthews, Senior Missional Consultant, The FaithX Project

This Sunday is Palm Sunday in Christian circles.   Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem marks the beginning of Holy Week.  Jesus entered Jerusalem on “Palm Sunday” with shouts of hope and possibility from many who had witnessed his miracles, been blessed by his teaching, those who were just curious, and of course his inner circle.  Many of those present had misguided hopes that deliverance from the Roman occupation might be possible through Jesus, yet beyond the waving palms and “hallelujahs” there was also a darkness coalescing around Jesus as the insecurity and fear of religious leaders began to boil over and as plans to silence Jesus simmered.  It would be an eventful week.  A week where Jesus would make hard choices.

We also live in a time where many feel a sense of dashed hopes, fear of the future, and many of us experience profound isolation and loneliness.  Some in this country even expect our political leaders to deliver us from the oppressor (usually the other political party).  The chasm between us can seem wide, and we often fail to come together as hopeful communities across our differences.

In 2023 the Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murphy, released a report entitled, “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: On the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community.”  Murphy states,

“Loneliness is far more than just a bad feeling— it harms both individual and societal health. It is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death…The mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day,* and even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity. And the harmful consequences of a society that lacks social connection can be felt in our schools, workplaces, and civic organizations, where performance, productivity, and engagement are diminished.”

In short, the cultural gaps in relationship we are creating between us and within us are killing us… or at least making us sick, and often our faith communities fail to notice and name the effects of loneliness and isolation in our faith communities and in our neighborhoods.  Our religious practices may even serve to numb us from the reality in the world around us.

All is not lost.  Vivek continues,

“Each of us can start now, in our own lives, by strengthening our connections and relationships. Our individual relationships are an untapped resource-a source of healing hiding in plain sight. They can help us live healthier, more productive, and more fulfilled lives…Answer that phone call from a friend. Make time to share a meal. Listen without the distraction of your phone. Perform an act of service. Express yourself authentically. The keys to human connection are simple, but extraordinarily powerful.”

In these fraught times, perhaps it’s time for us to make some hard decisions.  Will we choose connection over division?  Will we practice kindness even when it’s not reciprocated?  Will we stand against all the shades of injustice?  Will we imagine communities of connection and belonging and walk the road that leads us there, even after the fronds of Palm Sunday wither?  May we commit to practicing an irresistible lived hope that compels others to joins us, and may we together begin to heal the fabric of our relationships and communities.

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