It has been quite some time since I wrote a blog post; well over a year at this point, I believe. But as I prepare to teach Sunday School on this Palm Sunday morning, the second Palm Sunday that we’ve spent in quarantine, I guess I’m feeling reflective.
For the second time in my life, Jesus is entering Jerusalem to find her streets empty. The parade, the crowd, the joy that normally comes with this day is distant because we ourselves are distant from each other.
Last year was hard. This year, the difficulty feels different. I’m tired. I’m so tired yet we still aren’t out of the woods when it comes to this pandemic. But today, I feel a sense of joy that I haven’t felt in a long time. Today, the difficulty feels different.
My best friend, Dustin, is finishing up his time at the Candler School of Theology through Emory University and throughout his time there, has done incredible work with the Howard Thurman Digital Archives. I encourage you to listen and follow along with the reflections of Thurman as you can, but today, I’d like to highlight a reading of a poem written by a friend of his, entitled “Always the Open Hand.”
This poem is from the perspective of Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples, as they suddenly find themselves needing to feed a crowd of thousands. Philip is tired. It seems like there is always an open hand, some need from a member of a crowd that must be met. The disciples have been going through an emotional marathon for what must seem like a year.
Now, when Philip seems to be at the end of his rope, he and the disciples are met with a need to feed thousands of people. Always the open hand, right?
I am emotionally exhausted. This pandemic has taken so much joy from the things that used to give me life. I don’t feel like I can pour into the students like I should be able to, I feel so distant from my friends, I don’t feel like my cup has been full for quite some time. Yet I still feel a need to be there for others. I don’t want them to feel how I feel. Maybe if I can bring them joy, I’ll find it for myself.
But after a year, I almost feel like I’m going through the motions. I’m seeking open hands while reaching out my own.
When those open hands extended toward Christ, they were not turned away. Their needs were met with compassion and boundless joy. Maybe not from the disciples, but still it came from their hands. When the crowd of thousands was hungry, the meager amount of bread multiplied!
The poet says:
But, he saw the flocks wanting shepherd and fold. Pity in him a rose and a clear spring, for the world's thirst and love was a pasture land. The Lord blessed the bread. He put it into our hands, and it multiplied-- not in his hands but in mine.
Even when the disciples felt empty, this act of love still came from their hands. And that’s what this was, an act of love! The poet continues:
My mind is a blank sheet of light in the mystery of the thing. I gave and my hands were full again and again and again. Pity in him fell on my dried dust. It was summer rain, and the husk of my heart expanded and filled again-- and was large with grain. For me, the miracle was this-- that a clear stream of large love-- not mine-- flowed out of my soul-- a shining wave over my fellow man.
The miracle is a great reminder of the power Christ holds. But what always trumps power is the way that power is used. Christ uses power to show love to others. This endless love is incredible to see. The multiplying bread is just a symbol for that endless love.
Even at their wits end - when their hearts feel as dry as the desert - it is through that endless love that the disciples keep going. In the poem, Philip finds hope in that love and finds himself ready to meet the next open hand.
The poet closes the poem with this:
It is a slow truth-- a forbearing truth—that human need is infinite. And, if a man devotes all of his time, all of the distilled essence of his wisdom and all of the manifold complex of his resources to the meeting of human need and devotes himself exclusively to it, every hour of every day of every year for 1,000 years without eating or sleeping or resting-- at the end of the 1,000 years, human need would still be infinite.
Therefore, the wise man learns that since he cannot make a quantitative impression on infinity, he can make a qualitative impression on infinity. So, he puts at the disposal of human need the best that he can give, knowing that when he does this, the great god of life pours through this opening and multiplies his energies and his gifts. Always the open hand, always a teary eye.
After a year, I am tired. I am emotionally empty. But as Jesus prepares to walk into the empty streets once again, I am reminded that he does it time and time again to show us the endless love God has for us. Through the same hope that Philip received, I am refilled with the notion that my best is enough. I don’t have to be perfect and positive all the time, I just need to be there for the open hands in my life - the rest will be taken care of.
I am reaching out my open hand; there is always an open hand.
May God continue to use those open hands to multiply our best efforts. Amen.