Celebrating Palm Sunday
Rev. David Wilson Rogers
Today is Palm Sunday. In the Christian Calendar, it is a day remembered with Palms, Hosannas, and anticipatory pageantry celebrating the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on the week that he would be murdered for political expediency. Celebration and death are two conflicting themes that define this unique Christian observance which, of all the Christian observances throughout the year, is also one of the most oddly incongruous.
For churches that follow the lectionary, unlike almost every other Sunday of the year, today is defined by two separate and polarizing liturgies—the Liturgy of the Palms and the Liturgy of the Passion. One celebrates the triumphant Palm Sunday entry and the other recalls the final hours of Jesus’ life before his brutal death on a cross. The two seemingly incongruous observances recall the horrific irony of the week ahead. On Sunday, Jesus is a hero and by Friday he is an executed criminal. A faithful understanding of the transition from “Hosanna” to “Crucify” holds an important lesson for Christian faith.
In the celebrated procession down the Mount of Olives, past the ancient cemetery where King David and generations of faithful Jews were buried and along side the olive grove known as the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was met with joyous celebration and palm branches was reminiscent of the welcome of a warrior-king. The people wanted a strong, military ruler who could lead by the power of the sword and force of God’s wrathful vengeance. Many that day saw Jesus as just that person.
Yet some, namely those who already held onto religious and political power, found the populist adulation toward this upstart Galilean Rabbi to be a threat. His message was contrary to the status quo of Roman rule and their own narcissistic form of religious nationalism. They wanted him stopped and his enthusiastic followers silenced. They saw his message of inclusion, welcome, forgiveness, healing, and equality to be a threat to their power, position, and prominence in their world.
Motivated by fear of losing control over their culture and religious prestige, the religious leaders launched a vicious smear campaign against God’s Messiah. They made up lies, false accusations, and spread fearful lies about what would happen to everyone’s security, safety, and standing with God should such a person be allowed to heard. They distorted his message of love into a threat of destruction. Their justification was in narcissistic nationalism and self-preservation rather than in authentic Biblical faith, yet since they were considered respected religious authorities, the people were easily—and quickly—turned against Jesus.
Power, control, authority, punishment, and domination took over Christ’s message of sacrifice, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and acceptance in a matter of days. Those who lived by fear were able to spread their viral message of fear and it infected Biblical values with a virus of hate. Fearful that equality and justice would undermine their safety and security, the people of God turned on the Messiah of God with angry calls for his death and destruction.
By the time Jesus was led to the instrument of his brutal murder, those who once believed in God’s power had compromised their faith to hold to the human capacity to take life, administer punishment, take revenge, and do so in the name of presumed righteousness. The lesson of Palm Sunday is to see the lies in both the story of the Palms and the tragedy of the Passion so that we can rise above the rhetoric of lies, hate, fear, anger, revenge, power, control, and domination in order to embrace the authentically healing power of God’s love!