We marched in triumphal procession this morning. It was glorious; it was grand. Palm branches waving, brass playing, red vestments blazing. “Hallelujah!” we sang and cheered. “Hallelujah! Hosanna in the highest, for the Lord passes by, and we are his servants.”
This procession was so different from the one we experienced five weeks ago on the first Sunday of Lent. Then, we processed to the Great Litany. The mood was somber, and the ash still flaked from our foreheads. Our mortality was on our minds then, but not this morning. This morning we sang “All glory, laud, and honor,” which includes the words: “The company of angels are praising thee on high, and mortal men and all things created make reply.”
I have learned that Texans put a lot of stock in their boots. Years ago, when I was still in Arkansas, I knew a guy who desperately wanted alligator boots, but he couldn’t afford them. I told him he just needed to go down to the swamps of south Arkansas and kill his own alligator to get his boots. Well, I went with him and stayed in the hunting lodge. In the late afternoon he hadn’t come back, and I was worried. I walked to the edge of the swamp and saw him in hip waders with his shotgun on his arm and four dead alligators by his side. Even as I stood there he killed a fifth. “Why’re you shooting so many alligators?” I asked him. “Heck,” he said, “I have to. Every one I’ve found so far is barefoot.” He was a fool.
In his book The Social Animal, David Brooks relates the following: “There’s an ancient Jewish tale of a rabbi who came to synagogue with two slips of paper, one in each of his front pockets. In one pocket, the slip read, ‘You are nothing but dust and ashes.’ In the other, the slip read, ‘The world was created for you.’” I am especially reminded of these words as we travel together through the season of Lent.
Lent includes a constant oscillation between life and death, between reminders of our preciousness in the eyes of God and yet our failure to live into God’s hope for the world. We are, indeed, creatures of blessing and sin. At various times in Christian history and in various strands of the Christian tradition, one or the other of these things has been overemphasized.