The Palm Sunday liturgy has always caused me to pause. It mixes joy and sadness in a way that I find disconcerting. The joy is the easy part. The beginning of this liturgical service symbolizes the cheering and the happy crowds that admire and praise Jesus as he enters Jerusalem. But we know that there will be more to this story than just a happy parade. We know what will happen between the entry into Jerusalem and Easter Sunday. There will be persecution and death. Facing the hate and the persecution of the Passion is necessary, but not comfortable.
The good news is – we can still share the joy of the people’s acceptance of Jesus in that long ago time and place. The joy can be–and should be–real and complete, despite our knowledge of Jesus’ impending death, because there is for us, as Christians, the sure and certain knowledge of everlasting life that comes to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I really like this initial, happy part of the Palm Sunday service where we wave palms and process and sing. But this joyful crowd is only the beginning of Holy Week. In the service on Sunday, we moved quickly into another location in Jerusalem and into another crowd. This crowd is bloodthirsty. This crowd is angry. This crowd turns ugly. Sadly, we still see this kind of group, thousands of years later and in all parts of the world. Singing is replaced by threats and violence. What does this say about humanity and about our ability to love? Will we embrace others with love and kindness? Or will we persecute people different from ourselves? We are capable of both.
I think about the people in our community and communities worldwide who fear those ugly threats and ugly actions. I know innocent children from Central America whose families received death threats and whose parent or brother or sister were assassinated in front of them by a gang member. I think of the attacks on innocent people by members of ISIS in Brussels this Tuesday. I ache for those who fear these threats and violence fueled by hate and the need for power to control others. Their reality is represented in Holy Week too.
The drama we enacted in remembrance of the Passion of Jesus ends with the death of Jesus and the sadness that follows. But the story doesn’t end there. Easter is coming. Holy Week represents life in all its aspects–not only for Jesus, but for all humanity. Joy at one moment is often followed by sadness– or vice versa. There are times of persecution and violence, times of caring, times of enormous sadness and loss, and times of great joy. Juxtapositions can happen in a week—like Holy Week—or in one day—or over a lifetime.
On Palm Sunday, I wore a stole that a friend of mine made for me at a joyful time—my ordination. As I prepared for Sunday, I realized the colors were aligned with the liturgical season of Lent and Holy Week. They are all mixed together like the feelings in Palm Sunday’s Gospel and liturgy. Purple for the contemplation and penitence of Lent, red for the joy of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, black for the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross, gold and white foreshadowing Easter—all themes we had in our Palm Sunday services. That stole provoked one of those “ah-ha” moments that we get when we perceive and connect vastly different thoughts and emotions. The connection for me is that our Christian faith never leaves us at the cross, nor does it leave us in a perpetual celebration of palm waving. Our faith brings us to Easter and new life.
How we face the crosses in our lives and the crosses in the life of the wider community makes all the difference. Do we touch one another and care for each other as we do in the footwashing liturgy tonight? Or do we threaten or ignore or violate each other? Jesus teaches us to love one another.