Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, the end of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week. Some churches will have a special part of their service devoted to a procession of palm branches leading from readings in scripture about Jesus entering Jerusalem led by cheering crowds waving palms and laying them down in a carpet of welcome. Actually, this year’s reading from Luke has them laying down their garments, not palm branches. Maybe Luke was distracted by too many Macy’s Easter sale ads. Anyway, it’s Palm Sunday. But it’s also Passion Sunday, and the two do not fit well together. The dissonance irreconcilably grinds our senses against each other.
Before the last echo of Hosannah dies away, the story will turn dark. The readings from scripture will move abruptly to Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. The emotional tension created by the violent collision of Hosannah and Crucify Him is not hard to understand, it is impossible. How can they have cheered him on in one moment and killed him in the next? It’s a question scripture forces us to ask, and we have many unsatisfactory answers. The crowd that cheered Hosanna is different from the one that shouted for his crucifixion. The people loved him but the leaders hated him. The Hosannah crowd was a small group whose impromptu parade went unnoticed in the big city. We can come up with all kinds of speculative answers that appear to make at least some sense.
Scripture doesn’t let us off that easy because it demands that we ask again how it can be that Jesus is cheered on one day and crucified on the next. This time it demands that we ask it not about a people who lived two thousand years ago, but about ourselves. How can we proclaim Jesus as Lord, singing Hosannahs on Sunday, and crucify him on Monday through our casual disregard for everything he taught and did? How can we lay down palms of welcome on Sunday, and fail to be agents of his reconciling love on Monday? How can we follow him on Sunday, and pretend that we don’t know him on Monday? How can we receive new life on Sunday, and squash the life out of others on Monday? How can we!?
It’s a hard question; one that every Christian must ask with fearless honesty of himself and herself. At no other time in the Christian year are we so urgently encouraged to remember that in all the cares and occupations of our daily lives we are ever walking in God’s sight. Being mindful of that makes all the difference in what we do and how we treat others because it encourages us to inwardly offer hosannahs at all times, in very place, and for all persons.
Being mindful of that encourages us to resist the moments amidst the cares and occupations of our daily lives when we are tempted to shout out Crucify Him when confronted by others we don’t like, or hate, or fear, or believe to be our enemies.
Remembering that we are ever walking in God’s sight does not remove the cross from our lives. It makes walking in the way of the cross none other than the way of life and peace. Indeed, for us it is the only way of life and peace, but we are prone to wander far from it.
A favorite hymn says it well. “Oh to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be! Let thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee: prone to wander, Lord I fee it, prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart, oh take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.” ( Come thou fount of every blessing)
We cannot leap from Palms to Resurrection without going through the pain of trial and crucifixion. The journey through Holy Week is a journey into our own souls that asks hard questions and demands honest answers. But it is not a lonesome road that any of us must walk by ourself. It is a road that Jesus has already trod and will trod it again, walking by our sides.