Palm Sunday For People Getting Dragged Against Their Will
What is Palm Sunday?
Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter, and it commemorates Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem in the days before his death at the hands of the city’s Roman occupiers.
What’s the big deal?
A little history is helpful here.
A triumphant entry by God’s anointed rescuer had been imagined in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) hundreds of years before Jesus. It was anticipated as a moment of liberation for the Hebrew people, and the beginning of God’s reign of righteousness and peace, ultimately for all Creation. Jesus is boldly claiming to be the one his people have been waiting for.
What if I don’t believe in Jesus?
There’s still a lot going on in the story. For example, scholars debate whether Jesus knew he would be killed for such a public display of defiance. Certainly, he would have recognized the risks, to some extent.
But there are important questions in the story for everyone to ponder. Which truths in our lives call us to take risks? How far would we be willing to go in order to speak truth to power? Is there a line (or are there multiple lines) for us? Are we satisfied with lives that let others do our truth-speaking for us? Those are just a few.
You’ve said that Palm Sunday might be Christianity’s “most edgy” holiday. What’s that mean?
It’s edgy for Christians because it names how easily triumph can become triumphalism, or as one scholar has put it, how quickly a crowd can become a mob.
Most Christians recognize that throughout history, the Church as an institution has not always stood on the right side of justice or stood up for the dignity of all people. Christians can be quick to identify with Jesus as an outsider who stood for those things, but all too easily, we can fall into seeing others as sacred enemies — as “Romans” who need and deserve to be resisted, if not punished — in the name of justice and dignity for “us.”
But Palm Sunday is not about cheering the triumph of Jesus in any simple way. It’s also very much about recognizing ourselves in the crowd, as people who cheer his arrival on Sunday and then cheer his execution by the next Friday. Are there ways that we are more about winning than transforming the world? That’s a key question of Palm Sunday.
Why isn’t it a day that’s shrouded in black and built around quiet reflection, or asking forgiveness from those we have wronged, then?
Part of me thinks that would be amazing, actually.
But I think Palm Sunday still gets to be a triumphant, joyous day. It marks the triumph of the God we don’t expect or somehow get to vindictively deploy over the powers and rules of the world at its worst. Jesus wasn’t the warrior-king that many people were looking for — his understanding of liberation was a lot bigger than simply throwing the Romans out of his native land. The Old Testament had always said that, too.
His point was not that he should be the one sitting in the palace, running things. His point was that from the beginning, the world had been called to be a different kind of place.
Further, since the world wasn’t as it was supposed to be, it needed to be shepherded in the right direction, particularly by a people with a different set of values. Jesus saw that the world, left to its own devices, seemed to teach the wrong things. He believed that God, especially working in and through imperfect, but faithful people, would change that.
Palm Sunday was a symbolic reclaiming of the nation’s capital in the name of those values, and as a call to people of good will to get busy remaking the world.
It’s a call we need to follow more than ever.