Palm Sunday April 5, 2020 Hosanna, blessed, cursed?
Are we there yet? No, we are not! Be patient! We still have some ways to go! How long will it take before we get there? A while! Be patient! Are we lost? I don’t know! Be patient! Will we find our way? Yes, we will (I think so). Will we will ever get there? Let’s wait and see! Are you afraid? No! (A little). Will everything be fine at the end? Yes! (I hope so!).
So many questions and the answers are not always convincing or completely honest!
I suspect that one could apply this dialogue to our Lenten journey, to our own situation and to the world today! Many questions and few answers. Lots of uncertainties and fear. Hope springs eternal but at the moment even hope is somewhat illusive.
Lenten journeys are always long and difficult for they take us through the valley of immense suffering and death of Christ. We know that before we get to Easter we have to endure Holy Week. We have to face the great injustice suffered by the Son of God. We have to witness the physical pain and anguish of an innocent Man who carries the sin of the world on his shoulders. We have to see how his friends and his own people deny and reject him. We come face to face with his loneliness on his way to the cross. We have to be witnesses of the physical, emotional and mental suffering of a Man who does not deserve it.
Lenten journeys are always difficult. This year the journey is different. It is one of the most difficult ones imaginable. Every year we journey together. This year we are not. We feel alone, we are vulnerable, we are anxious, exposed and we are uncertain. No wonder we want to complete this journey as soon possible! Are we there yet? How long? When will this be over, when will we arrive?
Under normal circumstances Palm Sunday gives us some respite from our emotional Lenten journey. At last on Palm Sunday, there are shouts of Hosannas and a sense of joy! At last we can get up and receive a palm frond and feel a sense of relieve that we are almost there. But this year is different!
What if this difficult year ends being good for us in a spiritual sense? What if we can learn something new about our Lenten journey and our approaching Easter? Let me explain: Every year, Palm Sunday gives hope and joy. But Palm Sunday hope and joy, when you think about it, are actually a bit premature.
In terms of Jesus’ journey, it was only after Palm Sunday when things really became dark and violent. The week that followed Palm Sunday was the darkest week in human history.
This dark week that is called holy, is so painful and somber that people are tempted to skip the darkness, suffering and death to get to the light, life and joy of Easter. And avoiding the anguish and suffering of Holy Week diminishes the deep theological meaning of Easter.
And this year we simply cannot ignore the suffering and dying. We are forced to pause. This year we have to slow down and face the world as it is: a place of suffering and death. What do we do now that we cannot ignore the immense suffering and dying going on all over the world as we speak?
Perhaps we need to revisit the meaning of Holy Week before we get to the joy of Easter. Perhaps we have to be honest about the suffering of God’s Son and the suffering of our fellow human beings!
Did you know that this Sunday is in fact called Palm/Passion Sunday? We normally focus on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and people waving Palms and spreading their clothes with shouts of Hosannas and blessings as the prophet enters the capital. Palm Sunday!
It is perhaps a good time for us to focus on this Sunday as Passion Sunday, for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is the prologue to his suffering and death.
It is our custom to start this Sunday’s worship with the beautiful opening hymn “All Glory Laud and Honor to thee Redeemer king”. Theodulph, the Bishop of Orleans wrote this hymn in the 9th Century. The troubling fact is that nowhere in this hymn do we find any trace of what was about to happen to Jesus only a few days later.
If we had not known better, we would have concluded from reading this old hymn that the history of Jesus ended with him entering Jerusalem and everything turned out just fine. We would have concluded that Jerusalem recognized Jesus as their king. We would not have known that his live ended with his rejection and violent death.
If we had not known better, we would have been convinced that what happened on this Sunday almost 2 millennia ago shows that people who are obedient to God would reap the benefits of a good and prosperous life. We would have focused on Palm Sunday as a joyous day!
But Palm Sunday is also Passion Sunday. And life is not always easy and rosy. Life sometimes is hard and challenging! Take for example the life of the Theodulph, author of the opening hymn. He was born in Spain. When the Muslims conquered Spain, he went to France and as one of the best writers of the day, he produced many sermons, poems, church and theological writings. Charlemagne appointed him as ambassador to Rome and he became Charlemagne’s chief theological advisor with all the prestige and privileges that accompanied the position.
But then Charlemagne died. His successor, Louis the Pious accused Theodulph of joining in a conspiracy against him. Theodulph was thrown in prison. While in prison, he wrote the words of a Latin hymn called: “All Glory, Laud and Honor To thee Redeemer King.” Theodulph died within four years of entering captivity.
This is how life is: It is beautiful and it is hard. It is full of joy and full of pain. One day things are good, the next they are not. Our lives have Palm days and Passion days.
I think that over the years the Christian church has been very efficient in removing the Passion from Palm Sunday! We prefer the Hosannas and blessings and we ignore the suffering!
This year as we enter Holy Week, we are reminded that Jesus not only entered Jerusalem as a redeemer King but he was also crucified as a criminal.
He was not only praised but he was violently rejected!
He was praised but also vilified.
The main challenge is to somehow hold onto both aspects: praise and rejection, the honor and accusation of the masses, the adoration and the denunciation, the exaltation and the execution! |
It is no easy task to focus on two aspects that are seemingly on opposite sides of the spectrum. One day the crowds were euphoric about this man on the donkey entering the royal city of David as royalty – but then very soon afterwards they yelled: crucify him!
The one day they embraced him as a savior – the next they preferred a criminal.
The one moment they roared, “Hosanna!”- the next they cried out: “Away with him!”
“Blessed are you!” quickly changed into “he ought to die!”
But isn’t this exactly how life is? The one day we excitedly plan and then the next day the world seems to come to a standstill.
We are looking forward to an event and the next moment we hear about a loved one falling ill or a friend dying. We live as if every day will be the same or better and then within the blink of an eye our world changes. One moment we feel a bubbling joy and the next moment we feel the deep pain of being rejected. Life changes as quickly as one can say: “Hosanna – crucify him!”
This is what is amazing about the Gospel. It is honest and true. It gives us a real view about what life is and ought to be. Jesus, the Son of God, really becomes one of us, and lives and experiences what we experience.
His life, even though he was in the form of God, equal with God, was a humble one. He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. He became obedient to the point of death!
He relates to us, he understands our suffering, he knows how we feel when our life changes in the blink of an eye. He is there when we feel that we are admired, and he is there when we are put down and humiliated. He is there when things are going well and when they are not. And ultimately he is there when we live and when we die.
People of faith are not excluded from suffering, pain, rejection and death. There are no guarantees that we won’t get sick or will experience physical or emotional pain. At some point we will die.
Passion Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter inform us that Christ himself experienced everything that life threw at him. He understands the nature of human life. And he is with us when we experience everything that life throws at us!
In essence, Jesus’ promise is: “I know and I understand what you are going through! I will be with you always! You are not alone!”
The Apostle Paul reminds us that this Jesus who humbled himself and gave his life, is the One who is exalted and whose name is above every name. His promise to be with us always is also the assurance that he will give us whatever we need to carry whatever burden may come our way- for He is God-with-us.
The connection between Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter is what gives us hope, what gives us life, what gives us peace and acceptance!
This is our comfort and our strength in spite of what our circumstances are. Let us hold onto this, today, tomorrow and the days to come. For we are not alone. God is with us: in good times and when life is hard! It is after all he who said: “You are mine, I created you, I called you and I love you!”