Palms

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

Palm Sunday

Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
Luke 19:28-40

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

These celebratory words plunge us into Palm Sunday pageantry: greens waving, draped cloaks, children processing, and hosannas resounding. Six weeks into Lent, we may be looking for an escape. We hear the cry, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” and we catch a brief glimpse of Jesus as coming king. Finally there is light in the darkness!

The crowds that gathered some 2000 years ago are also relieved; it’s not simply six weeks from which they seek reprieve, but a lifetime (and an ancestry) of heaviness, oppression and fragility. At last Jesus will take hold of Jerusalem! Maybe even a wisp of smugness laces the festivities; finally the powers that reign are going to be put in their place. “That will show those Roman occupiers who our God really is!”

Mixed with our anticipation, we also are prone to gather with a waft of conceit. Unlike the original Palm Sunday crowds, we stand in history after the events of this most Holy Week. We believe Jesus is not only a worthy king, but we know that this humble donkey-rider will conquer even death itself in resurrection. This Biblical crowd has no idea the depth of what lies ahead., but we think we do. So we smile confidently and hurry our children to the aisle to wave a palm branch in celebration.

But what the crowd then, and so often now, seeks to avoid is the truth that “if we follow Jesus into Jerusalem, humiliation and death will follow.”

Because if we really enacted Luke’s gospel text, the next part of our liturgy would have someone stand up and demand the jubilation cease.

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”

The triumphal entry is cut short as the opposition strikes, and gives voice to the discord. In the chapters that follow we see the Temple cleared, traps laid, fatal betrayal, arrest and crucifixion. Those who are celebrating the Passion liturgy this Sunday will walk through two jam packed chapters of Luke’s gospel. In five short days the triumphant crowds cry has twisted from “Blessed is the king” to an ugly “Crucify Him!”

Then a mighty roar rose from the crowd, and with one voice they shouted, “Kill him…” (Luke 23:18 NLT)

In light of this, what are we to make of this palm parade?

Catherine Gunsalus Gonzalez notes in The Abingdon Women’s Preaching Annual, that the crowd on Palm Sunday “seemed to recognize him. Even during the week, their presence protected him. But we know that their mood changed by Friday. Once Jesus was in the hands of the rulers, once he no longer seemed to have power, then the recognition faded that in this man God was visiting his people…. We like a God who seems ready to do something for us. On Palm Sunday when Jesus seemed powerful, the multitude followed. But when Jesus is Pilate’s prisoner, the same multitude turned away from him and back to the old leaders who again seemed in control.”

It is great to celebrate Palm Sunday when the surroundings are festive, but it’s even more important to sing “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” when it looks like the powerful are back in charge. When lies and betrayal stock us. When accolades dry up and criticism prevails. When mockery, arrest and death pursue us. When the one we thought would conquer Jerusalem hangs on a cross outside the city gates.

It’s here that our pride can be laid down and we can admit we did not know the cost of our Palm Sunday proclamation.

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

It cannot be silenced by the opposition. Jesus tells these foes that if the crowds were silent, even the stones would shout out.

In the days ahead may we not relinquish our participation in the persistent refrain.

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God, I will extol you.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 118:26-29)

click here for a previous bLOGOS reflection on these texts

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