The violin string

There are many dimensions to the Palm Sunday story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem at the beginning of the final week of his  earthly life.  Many details of the story we usually gloss over—such as Jesus tasking his disciples to find him a donkey.  The gospel writer Mark gives a surprising amount of space to this seemingly minor matter (11:1-11), and we’ll be asking why he does so on Sunday, March 29.

More traditionally, Palm Sunday has been seen as the day when Jesus begins his walk to the cross, where he died for the world’s sin. That emphasis will become explicit on “Good Friday.”   A British pastor, Samuel Wells, has likened Jesus on the cross to “a violin string,” stretched between two poles, as was a courageous ship passenger in the following true story.

On the night of March 6, 1987, a ferry carrying 500 people across the English Channel to England sank in the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, 90 seconds after leaving harbor. A crewman had fallen asleep and had failed to close the bow doors. Another crewman had seen the doors were open but chose not to close them because it wasn’t his job. So water gushed into the open doors and the ship capsized, with the loss of nearly 200 lives.

An assistant bank manager, Andrew Parker, was a passenger on the ferry that night, and did an extraordinary thing. He saw two metal barriers, and, below, in the gap between them, he saw onrushing water. Behind him were dozens of people. So Parker held on to one barrier with his fists and the other with his ankles, and made his own body into a human bridge by stretching between the two barriers. Some 20 terrified people, including his own wife and daughter, climbed over him to safety

Samuel Wells writes, “ How he found the courage and strength, how he still was rescued after laying down his life for so many, no one could say. But there was no doubt that in that disaster the world could see both ends of the violin string – the depths of human failure and the heights of human aspiration. ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13).  Wells concludes:  “Jesus is the violin string stretched out between heaven and earth. And the music played on that string is what we call the gospel.”

That’s the music we will listen to during the Holy Week that lies ahead.

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