Today is Palm Sunday. It begins Holy Week, the time the church dramatizes the events leading up to and including the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross.
I wonder . . . do we rush into Jesus’ crucifixion too quickly?
It is unseasonably cold in Connecticut for the end of March. I wore my wool coat to church and brought my gloves, knowing that we would begin worship outside in the church’s courtyard, each being handed a palm branch for the Liturgy of the Palms. But alas, there was much grumbling, so we packed ourselves into the Narthex for the reading and then followed the choir into church to find our pew, singing the tradition hymn, “All Glory, Laud and Honor.” And we moved right into the Liturgy of the Passion.
As a child, I remember gathering outside with everyone, palms in hand as words were said and hymns sung as we processed around the entire church building, onto the sidewalk, then up the front walk to enter the church. It was a big deal if you were an acolyte (especially the crucifer) because you got to lead everyone – the choir, clergy and the rag tag bunch of congregants, many of whom hadn’t set foot in church since Christmas. The procession would not just move up the center aisle, we would do a few ‘laps’ around the sanctuary – up and down and all around. There was a sense of anticipation in the air; Lent was over, spring was coming, Easter would soon be upon us and the somber tone of the past 40 days would be over. My family was not particularly ‘orthodox’ in that we did not give up anything for Lent (although we might have talked about it). We did have fish cakes on Friday sometimes. But Palm Sunday was a fun day – it was a parade, a triumphal celebration of Jesus as King, doing something different and out of the ordinary at church. (And we knew that the rest of the week was going to turn somber because we went to church on Good Friday to experience the Passion.)
Today in my church, and I suspect in most Episcopal churches, Palm Sunday has become a liturgical-combo day. We start by commemorating Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem by our ‘procession’ with palms. The tension between suffering and glorious triumph is set immediately before us: first joyful hosannas ringing out, Jesus riding on a donkey to his destiny. All of us who shoot “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” will soon chant, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Do we take enough time to sense how we so quickly change our tone? How the foreboding builds throughout Jesus’ week before he shares a last meal with his disciples and is betrayed in the garden?
For the moment, I need to reflect on today – Palm Sunday. Jesus has entered Jerusalem, hailed as a king. Not Caesar, not the appointed Roman governor. A new king – one for the poor, for those without voices, for those left behind. He was the stones shouting out by example. And for the time being, we are all willing to follow.