“For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.”
These verses from Psalm 31 are a proper preface to Palm Sunday. This is the Sunday not so much of children waving palms with hosannas as it is the beginning of a drama that will end in execution, murder, and suicide. This is the beginning of the end of the key conflict between the kingdom of God and the empire of the world.
The crowd has it right when they proclaim, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven.” But we should not take from this that Christ is coming in peace, at least not of the kind maintained by the empire until its legitimacy is threatened—the peace of stasis, peace without conflict. Christ is entering Jerusalem for peace, and violence, unrest and insurrection are the sure signs that the kingdom of peace is threatening a world bent on coercion and injustice. Christ’s response to this violence is to take the downward path toward death—the path of humiliation for the sake of righteousness.
Humiliation is a common theme in the lectionary readings for this Palm Sunday. In Philippians Paul calls us to have the “same mind” as a savior who “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” In Isaiah the one who sustains “the weary with a word” does not hide his “face from insult and spitting.” Then we have Jesus entering Jerusalem in triumph with the first gospel reading and hanging on the cross by the second.
Paul calls us to follow this path of humiliation and so we must ask, how do we enter on this downward path?
From Psalm 31 to Isaiah to the Gospel, humiliation is the result of righteousness and obedience. We should take away from this that if we are to be righteous, if we are to follow the ways of Christ rather than the competing ideologies of our age, there are going to be times when the world will humiliate us (Sojourners recent attack from Glen Beck?).
But in all of the readings for this week we also see that in our humiliation, as in our humility, we must be radically dependent upon God. In this radical dependence we die and let our life carry on in God—let God become our body and breath. We follow the Psalmist saying, “I trust in you, O Lord; / I say, ‘Your are my God.’/ My times are in your hand.”
This Palm Sunday as many of us march around our churches waving palms, remember that these will be the ashes representing our death when they are burned for Ash Wednesday—that if we follow Christ into Jerusalem humiliation and death will follow. This Sunday is the beginning of the radically new insurrection of the Gospel—an insurrection that begins with humiliation, moves to “death—even death on a cross,” and ends with God’s faithful deliverance and resurrection.