Leave, and Welcome. As we enter Holy Week, these two words are on my mind, intertwining to give me a window into the story.
The two words have risen to the surface because, over the past few months, I’ve been reading Marilyn McEntyre’s Word by Word: a daily spiritual practice. Each week, she explores a word from seven different perspectives. Last week, the word was Leave: leave yesterday behind; leave what has served its purpose; leave the results to God. This week the word is Welcome.
Holy Week begins with a hosanna-singing, palm-waving welcome for the King.
It continues with the sadness of imminent leaving: Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, last prayer with them, last visit to the Mount of Olives where he had often prayed.
The High Priest and Pilate each reach a verdict, as does the crowd which has stopped welcoming and is now crying for his death, that final (they thought) leaving.
Jesus’ disciples leave, with a kiss of betrayal, a word of denial, cold fear.
And then there’s Jesus’ own pained cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
But even in this week of excruciating leaving, there’s welcome also, the two living right next to each other.
One thief chooses hardness and mocking, a leaving of the Way into life. The other asks for welcome, and receives it.
As Jesus prepares to leave, he welcomes his betrayer with a morsel of bread. When he returns, he welcomes the one who denied him with breakfast around a charcoal fire and a new commission. He helps Mary, Peter, and the rest of his sad, ashamed, or fearful disciples leave the fear and failure of the past in order to move forward into the welcome offered, extending that welcome to others.
The women leave the tomb before the Sabbath, hearts heavy. They return as soon as they can to find that the leaving, as real and excruciating as it had been, has not been forever. They discover themselves welcomed: named, commissioned, and filled with a joy to replace their fear. ‘
“Welcome,” Marilyn McEntyre points out, “comes from an early English word meaning ‘one whose coming brings pleasure.'” (Word by Word, p. 212) This is what welcome does: it reminds us that we belong. That we are desired and enjoyed. That we are His. And though Jesus left for a short while—first into the tomb and then into the clouds—He did so all in the service of unending welcome.
And so I wonder as we begin this week, what parts of me is Jesus particularly wanting to welcome, bringing all of me a little more deeply into His love?
What am I being asked to leave so that I can step more fully into this welcome, into being all His?
And what, or who, might I welcome, and in so doing welcome Jesus?
* * *
The day before Palm Sunday, I walked with a friend in Van Deusen Gardens. Among the many gifts of spring, one that caught our attention was the bush where flowers bloomed on leafless branches. It seemed to me a perfect image for the way Holy Week feels to me this year, with the nakedness and vulnerability of leaving and death, combined with the gift of beauty and promise, welcome and hope.
As we reached the end of our garden walk, another gift was waiting. Someone had picked single blossoms of all the different varieties of Lenten roses, arranging them in a large, stone bowl. It was another little place where leaving and welcome met: the flower leaving the plant in the service of extravagant welcome.