Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord (Mark 11: 7-9 NRSV)
If you’re like me and grew up in a church it’s very possible that Palm Sunday (also known as Passion Sunday) was a pretty neat time. I remember as a kid they’d hand us all the palm branches and we’d get to march around the sanctuary waving them around while everybody sang a hymn, usually “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna,” and our parents looked at us with their “Oh how precious” faces and once in awhile took pictures. You know, with actual cameras. These were the days before cell phones after all. Everybody smiled, the music was boisterous, and the mood was joyful.
Well we still do that today at Community United Methodist, where I’m a member. Pastor Gary threw out a wrinkle today though. He let the adults join in the marching! Now in light of what I just said, you’d think I’d be all for jumping in there, right?
Now I am known as kind of a famous curmudgeon, and I suppose that could be PART of it, but there was something else going on in my mind. I really couldn’t get into it, because I was looking ahead to what happens later in the week.
I first ran into that feeling as a teenager. When I was still in high school I took a job as a cantor for the big Roman Catholic Church here in Ogden. It was there, at St. Joseph’s, where I encountered Lent and Passion Sunday for the first time. I mean at first it was cool, there were still palm branches, and many of the folks folded them into little crosses. Huh. I never would have thought to do that. We even got to sing “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna” with the church’s HUGE (bigly) pipe organ! But then when they read scripture they read the Passion narrative, and it was interactive. When they got to the part where Pilate asks the crowd what they want done with Jesus, the congregation (and me as cantor) responded with “Crucify him! Crucify him!” As a 17 year old kid who still wasn’t really well grounded in his faith (even though I thought was), I didn’t like hearing those words come out of my mouth. I remember going to my own church later in the day, where I was a worship leader, and sitting there before our service started and thinking to myself, “Can’t I just enjoy Palm Sunday?”
This morning I was thinking about that experience all those years ago. We ended our service with the hymn “Go to Dark Gethsemane” and exited the sanctuary without a benediction, the idea was that Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday and stretches through the whole week, as one act. As we left, the last hymn clearly put the focus on the events later in the week.
Can’t I just enjoy Palm Sunday?
I wonder if Jesus did. Jesus knew what was going to happen. As easy as it might have been for him to get caught up in the crowds and the adoration around him as he fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy, he still knew. He knew that he would not be the conquering military leader that the people expected, the one who would save them from the Romans. He knew that in five days his best friends would run away from him during his time of deepest anguish, and one of them would betray him. He knew that in just five days the same people shouting “Hosanna” would be shouting “CRUCIFY HIM” instead. He knew that in just five days, or 120 short hours, that he would die a horrible, humiliating, painful death.
No, I’m not sure he enjoyed Palm Sunday. If I could be so presumptuous as to put myself in his shoes for 25 seconds that day, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it, indeed I’m not sure I could have handled it. I guess for him maybe that being “Fully God” as well as “Fully Human” part might have helped.
Now I’m not saying that Palm Sunday is bad. In fact, it’s necessary. It was ordained, and maybe it’s just possible to steal a few minutes worth of joy from. However, it is just a beginning. It is the beginning of the final act of Jesus’ divine ministry here on earth. That act will feature very little joy in days ahead, and more than it’s fair share of sorrow, suffering and death.
You could be tempted to skip right to the end of the play, right to the end of story where joy just might await, where you see who gets the last word. I implore you though this week: don’t do that.
Be fully present in the moment. Be fully present in the drama. Be fully present in the sorrow. Don’t pass up the hours of lament to skip to the the joy. The lament, the sorrow, and the drama invigorate the joy!
The dark always comes before the dawn. But don’t fret the dark. Walk through it, move through it, and push through it, for it is in the deepest, most painful darkness that we encounter the most moving, beautiful, and dynamic Grace.
To be continued……….