A Sunday Reflection for Palm Sunday.
The lectionary readings for Palm Sunday are here.
This day used to be only Palm Sunday, a celebration of Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The crowds shout Hosanna and lay palms their coats on the ground before him as they would someone of high official rank and authority. For us, two thousand plus years later, as we recollect the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, it is the beginning of Holy Week. But, in recognition of the fact that most folks stopped attending the services in between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, the church began incorporating the Passion of Jesus – the telling of his arrest, trial, and execution – into the liturgy of Palm Sunday. Instead of a weeklong journey from triumphant hosannas to betrayal and denials, to shouts of ‘crucify him’ and the anguish and pain of public crucifixion, we get it all in an hour and a half, creating a bit of mental and emotional whiplash.
And although I understand the reasoning behind it, I don’t agree with it. In squashing all the events of Holy Week into one service we do ourselves a great disservice. We leapfrog from triumph to resurrection without walking with Jesus through the events in between. We forget to remember that without death we can’t have resurrection. Without the events of Thursday and Friday and Saturday, we don’t have Easter Sunday. The true meaning of Easter includes the events that precede the resurrection. We’ve enabled what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace:
“Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin.…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (The Cost of Discipleship). Cheap grace is what allows us to justify professing belief in Jesus Christ on Sunday and then not living Monday through Saturday in the Way of Love.
Grace is God’s gift of Himself to us. The Very One who created us did not consider it too high a price to live and die as one of us so that we could be in relationship with him. In Jesus, God became fully human (and also remained fully God, a mystery beyond our understanding) to show us in flesh and blood what it is to live in the Way of Love. He was betrayed by one of his closest followers. Another denied even knowing him. And most of the rest of his inner circle abandoned him at his arrest and trial, much less stick around for his crucifixion. Only three that we know of stayed by his side through the entire ordeal, and two of them were women, who couldn’t even use the title ‘disciple’ at that time.
How do we honor the gift of God? Regardless of our behavior or actions, God offers us himself fully. God welcomes us home any (and every) time we ask to return. We don’t (and can’t) earn God’s Love; we simply have to accept it. And yet, we can only receive the full benefit when we let God’s Love change us. And it can only really change us when we know the full value of this amazing gift of everlasting life and follow Jesus into the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
As I do each year at this time, I invite everyone to fully participate in the events of Holy Week. Don’t skip them, don’t avoid the ugly parts, don’t try to sanitize the betrayal and pain and suffering. Experience it all with the full assurance of the hope given us by God. Experience the full meaning of the Resurrection. You won’t regret it.