I love this celebration. It also makes me feel uncomfortable.
How could a day in which we celebrate the coming of the Messiah make me uncomfortable? In the Gospel narratives, the Triumphal entry is the marking of when Jesus finally makes his way into Jerusalem. This is a journey that he has been on for a while. Jesus has been performing miracles, telling parables, proving the religious authorities wrong, posing more questions than answers, and doing God’s will for him. When he rides into Jerusalem on that day, riding on a donkey as predicted in Zechariah 9, he is recognized as the Messiah by the people who enter him in. He enters in to palm branches, songs of joy, wonderful music, and anticipation. He enters with joy into what he knows will be his death.
My home church has a very intentional Good Friday service. Every year it is the same service with the same music, same readings often led by the same people, and a black out at the end that represents the tearing of the curtain when Jesus died in Luke's Gospel, and the closing of the tomb after He has been placed within it. I have realized that having this same service every year for the past eighteen years has been has been very significant to my faith development and my understanding of Jesus’ death. We need to remember what happens between Palm Sunday and Easter. Without taking the time to grieve the death of Jesus, it is harder for us to truly appreciate the empty tomb a few days later.
Responsive readings are a part of the religious tradition I was brought up in. For these readings there would be a narrator and then others would do the voices of the characters at play in the story of Jesus’ passion. The congregation would play the part of the crowd. So when they are reading Luke 25:15-23, when Pilate is asking the crowd gathered outside if they would rather have Barabbas, a murder, or Jesus released to them, the congregation would say, “Crucify him! Crucify him! Release Barabbas to us.”
Palm Sunday makes me uncomfortable because as the word, “Hosanna,” escapes my lips, I foresee myself shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
By placing myself in the story I have empathy for those characters. I understand. Or at least I try to. I see how they betrayed Jesus in those days between his entry into Jerusalem and his death on the cross. I see how I do too. I become more aware of my sins, my failures, and my utter need for Jesus. When I look at Palm Sunday and rejoice with Palm branches, I see myself forsaking Christ a little later that same week right along with the twelve disciples.
When I see myself shouting,
“Hosanna,” I know the end. I know
that Jesus is going to end on that cross. I know that everyone who loves
Jesus is going to betray him. The
Gospel of Mark portrays Jesus as being utterly abandoned by all his friends,
followers, and even his god (“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani”) in Mark 15:34.
Although, as soon as I realize this, my mind flickers to what I know as the ultimate end. I know that in the end he is going to rise from the dead. I know that despite my forsaking him, he loves me anyway. He died for me anyway. I completely betray him and he dies for me. He redeems me. He loves me.
Palm Sunday makes me uncomfortable because it reminds me of my frailty and God's worthiness. But it also means that not only is the death of my savior coming, but also his resurrection. It gives me hope.
Maybe it is silly that Palm Sunday makes me uneasy. Maybe it is silly that I remember all this in the shouting of one word – “Hosanna”. But perhaps it is a good thing. Because in this struggle I realize how fallen I am and how good and faithful God is. I realize once again the message of the Gospel. It is one that is transforming. It is renewing. It is so easy to not really think of what the story of Jesus' passion means for us. It gives us hope that even as we wave these branches and shout, "Hosanna, blessed be the one who comes in the way of the Lord," there is something larger at work. We are on our way to betraying our Christ, but Sunday is a-coming. Behold the risen Lord—greater than all my failures.