Palm Sunday

By on June 1, 2022

I travel with two suitcases: one is known infamously at home as “the Coffin,” and holds everything I’ve brought with me on this six month sojourn in Europe. The other is smaller, although still a bit awkward. I was standing in a line in a train station in a Polish city called Katowice, trying to get a refund on my ticket (that’s another story), when the smaller yet awkward case swung around and in a Mr. Bean-ish way, bumped a lady standing behind me. 

Like so many people I’ve met in the past two months, she was more than gracious about it. We began to talk. She said that she hoped that the person at the ticket counter might speak English, and we both agreed that it would be best not to try to talk Russian at this point! 

She was from Lviv, a city in northwestern Ukraine that recently has come under attack. What is more, she was heading back there, because, as she said, her “heart was there.” I told her I hoped God would protect her, and a look came over her face that is hard to describe: strong yet full of emotion pulling at her. 

Poland is not on the front lines as I write this, but it is very much in the middle of this crisis. In Poznań, the city where I was staying for a few days, there are 40,000 refugees from Ukraine. In Warsaw, not far off, there are 400,000. More are probably coming. I met a professor from Lublin, another Polish city in the east, who has taken a fatherless family into her home, and a gentleman who has given his apartment over to refugees and moved back in with his parents. Another person, whom I did not meet at the conference, couldn’t come because she has contracted Covid– from the refugee family she is hosting. The war and the ripples of danger and disruption advancing from it are affecting millions who have never even been to Ukraine. 

And millions of words have been written about this crime, but I hope you will forgive me if I write a few more. First, when one man (or woman) or a people decide unilaterally what makes up “their land” or even “their part of the world,” and decide that those who disagree can simply be eliminated, we have crossed over into a place where rising levels of cruelty– on either side fighting—are inevitable. We’ve been here before. Beware of any political figure using grievance and grudges to push an agenda that might seem reasonable at first but gets more and more extreme. 

Secondly, none of our societies are entirely immune from this danger. We have more choices in Canada from which to get our picture of the world, but all of us probably know someone who has retreated into an online echo chamber of strange theories and conspiracies– or worse. Our online age has increased this danger. 

Finally, this is a time when the Good News of the New Testament has much to teach us. The refusal to judge, the essential importance of mercy and charity, the key strength of patience (which I have seen in so many of my Polish colleagues as of late) and the refusal to worry whether someone is “Jew or Greek.” And last but not least, as we vote for leaders and for our countries’ policies, the need to be as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves! 

There will be challenging times ahead, but as Dr. King said, the arc of history bends towards justice. May it be so. 

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