Palm Sunday, 2014
Not long ago, on Shrove Tuesday, I placed last year’s palms into a metal basin and set them on fire. The dry, brittle palms were quickly consumed by the fire: creating an orange glow and black smoke. As the smoke wafted through the night air with bits of ash like black confetti, I imagined hearing the distant “Hosannas” from last year’s Palm Sunday. Last year’s palms became this year’s ashes, marking crosses on foreheads on Ash Wednesday.
The season of Lent passes quickly, like the turn of a page in the Prayer Book, and now here we are: on this bright morning, clutching green palms — a symbol of victory — in our hands, as we celebrate the arrival of this itinerant preacher and healer named Jesus into the holy city of Jerusalem. Where he has come to die.
Jesus, Son of God: friend of the losers and the lost. Friend of everyone and anyone who might welcome and receive his life-changing good news.
Hosanna in the highest!
I find there is no Sunday more challenging than Palm Sunday. When we cry “hosanna” in one moment and “crucify him” in the next. When we praise him and call him King, then turn around and deny, betray, and abandon him…when the powers and principalities of this world, with which we are entangled, press down to destroy him and his kingdom.
Palm Sunday lays bare the struggle of discipleship and struggle of being church: that there is a disconnect between what we say we believe and how we live our lives. When we reflect on our history and present lives, sometimes the disconnect is great and sometimes it is small, but today — whatever its size — it is in our face. Like smoke, stinging our eyes.
But this discomfort, it is actually a gift. This heightened awareness that something is wrong, that we’re missing the mark, not getting it right, that we long for a different outcome. It is a gift. It is the gift of God’s grace, stirring within us, already moving us toward greater faithfulness. And greater friendship with God.
Jesus, Immanuel, God with us: friend of the blind and the lame. Friend of everyone and anyone who might welcome God’s undying love for the whole world, including us.
Now, the danger of Palm Sunday is to experience and get stuck in shame, guilt, and dispair — which is not the good news of Jesus Christ. The opportunity of Palm Sunday is a closer walk and a deeper friendship with Jesus. Trading the role of Pilate for the role of Simon of Cyrene. Trading the role of the running and hiding disciples for the role of the women disciples standing near the cross.
Fourth century St. Gregory of Nyssa said: “This is true perfection: not to avoid a wicked life because we fear punishment, like slaves; not to do good because we expect repayment […] but that we regard falling from God’s friendship as the only thing dreadful, and we consider becoming God’s friend the only thing worthwhile.”
This Palm Sunday, those things that cause this disconnect between what we believe and how we live: fear, greed, shame, pride, whatever it may be — let them burn! Let them burn as if on a funeral pyre. Let them turn to ash! And by God’s grace, may this inward, spiritual act free us to know and experience more fully the life-giving, divine love that we see most perfectly in our friend and savior, Jesus. That we, like never before, may become bearers of his life-changing, good news of love.
A love so great, that One lay down his life for his friends.