Palm Sunday is a strange festival. It’s a celebration of Jesus as King, but even as we celebrate, we are conscious of another part of the story. The crowds cheered and lauded Jesus as he entered Jerusalem; the same crowds seemed to turn on him when he was not the military conqueror they expected.
There is a bigger story going on at Palm Sunday than most people at the time could see. We have the benefit of knowing the rest - we can see the journey of Jesus to the cross. But the clues were all there at the time: the King arriving into Jerusalem was on a donkey, not a war horse. As the crowd waved their palm branches and shouted “Hosanna”, many were expecting a leader who would fight their battles and liberate them from the Roman Empire. What they got was a different kind of king - infinitely more powerful, yet incredibly humbler. The week took a dramatically different turn: in just a matter of days, Jesus would be executed as a criminal, silent before his abusers, humiliated and tortured.
Lent is a good time to be asking, what is our mental or emotional picture of God? Palm Sunday is a time to think about what we are expecting from God.
We might not be expecting a warrior king, but we may want God to make the coronavirus disappear forever, no more variants, to make everything go back to normal again. If we are honest with ourselves, we sometimes want God to be like a fairy-godmother, to wave a magic wand and take away all the pain and suffering.
These are very human responses. We find them in the Psalms as well. They are not sinful responses, even if they give the wrong picture. The Psalmist in Psalm 44, for instance, gets quite personal with God. He/she tells God that God is a bosh businessman – he has sold his people, and has not even made a good deal. He suggests God is asleep, and tells him to wake up.
Prayer should always be honest – but it also goes far beyond just honesty. It’s a meeting with God himself, whom Jesus says we can address as father, as Lord, as healer and redeemer, life and truth, creator, and many more ways.
Palm Sunday confronts us with God being disruptively different. God the revolutionary. We see a God who takes on the pain, who walks the journey of Holy Week, deeper and deeper into a darkness we cannot enter. God in Jesus lets his friends deny and betray him. God, in Jesus, suffers rejection and abuse, and the ultimate desolation of a lonely yet innocent death. All the worst of human experience is heaped on Jesus.
So, as we enter Holy Week this Palm Sunday, let us ask ourselves what are we praying for? What are we expecting of God? The thing is, God is so infinitely loving and generous that he comes to meet us wherever we are, because he knows and understands our sufferings. On that first Palm Sunday, Jesus criticized those who would seek to silence the cries of the crowd.
Bring all you are – your hopes, fears, sadness, uncertainty – to Jesus. He never turns anyone away. And because of the life and death of Jesus, we can trust in the forgiveness of God and his victory over death.
But here is the challenge of Palm Sunday: in trusting in Jesus, the Servant King, we are set on a path of following his life and pattern, right to the cross, so we too might experience the glorious resurrection.
Resurrection requires that we carry a cross. And that means turning away from what is indecent, what is deceitful, what is unjust, what is selfish and wrong by putting ourselves, our self-obsession and our selfishness on the cross. For putting our self-wants on the cross leads straight to resurrection.
Join us this Sunday, April 10th at 8 AM and 10:30 AM as Jesus enters the gates of Jerusalem as the people laud and honor him with Palms and Hosannas. Join us after the 10:30 AM service as we celebrate this day with fellowship and refreshment. Blessings for a great week. As always, I am yours in Christ, Fr. Bill+