Every year on Palm Sunday, most Churches read the passion narrative. We read the story from the night before Jesus’ death, all the way through the cross and the sealed tomb. Because the story is so long (2-3 pages of text at least), many churches read the narrative as if it is a script, with parts assigned, to break up the reading. This practice helps keep our attention, but also helps us hear the story differently each year. As someone who has both listened to passion narratives and participated in them, I know how powerful the experience can be. I will never forget the first time I was asked to read Jesus’ part. There is something indescribable about having Jesus’ words in your mouth. Likewise, hearing other people read parts can be powerful. Imagine hearing the most faithful church elder say the words of Judas or denying Peter; or imagine how a well-placed pause by the narrator can make you hear differently.
As a priest, knowing the power of the voice in the passion narrative, I work hard to make sure the voices people hear on Palm Sunday are moving for them too. Of course, I am sometimes limited by the available readers, but whenever I get the list of potential readers, I work hard to create synergy – looking for a mixture of male and female voices, looking for variations in age where possible, and also looking for visuals, like varieties in the physical attributes of the readers. This year, I happened to have some children and youth offer to read and tried to find unexpected roles for them too. What I did not anticipate was how powerful their voices would be for me.
You see, this past weekend, children and youth from all over the country and globe took to the streets because they feel afraid and threatened, and they are frustrated that adults are either not listening or are unwilling to find a way forward to make them feel safe. Now, I know some of us may disagree with some of their proposed actions, but if nothing else, this past weekend made me feel like our inability to listen respectfully to one another and work for change was exposed. Our children this weekend drew back the curtain on our ugly secret – that we are not acting as agents of love in the public sphere – on either side.
Feeling raw and exposed by Sunday, imagine the wave of emotion that hits when a nine-year old reads the part of Jesus to our church in the passion narrative. Having a child say, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough!” shook me to the core. As I listened to his clear, steady voice, I began to not only hear the passion differently, but also began to realize that Jesus is speaking to us every day, with voices we may not expect, but voices that speak truth – raw, painful, beautiful truth. As we continue our Holy Week walk this week, I invite you to listen to the Jesuses speaking to you in your everyday life. What does God need you to hear this week? How might hearing a voice that says something you oppose sound differently if you listen with holy ears? Adjusting your ears will certainly change how you experience Holy Week, but more importantly, adjusting our ears might help to change how we experience humanity in this moment. Those who have ears, listen.