Sunday, April 13, 2014

I want the palms and hosannas without the cross. . .

When I grew up and where I grew up Palm Sunday was Confirmation Day -- strategically placed so that the confirmand might actually have a shot at first communion within the reasonable wait of four or five days (we had Holy Communion on Good Friday then, an old and, from my perspective, unsalutary practice).  On Palm Sunday the church was packed with my relatives (half of them, at least, since my first cousin was also being confirmed on that day in another LCMS church in another town at the very same time). 

Some folks miss that.  I don't.  I think it a very unhealthy thing to displace our Lord's entrance into Jerusalem to make His way to the cross with the entrance of well scrubbed pubescent youth into communicant and confirmed membership of the parish.  Who rode in on Palm Sunday (now 47 years ago)?  Why little Larry in his first big boy suit ready to spit out the answers to the Catechism's questions and the Bible passages that proved him worthy of his family and his place within the family the church.  You can argue the point.  Many do argue with me.  But that is how I feel about it.

I am thinking of starting a campaign to bring back Palm Sunday, without the additional observance of Passion Sunday. Palm Sunday was always one of my favorites growing up as a preacher's kid, and it was all about the palms--and a lot of them. It was celebratory, festive, when as child I got a chance for a hands-on worship experience and a glimpse of what royalty could look like.  So begins an article in the Christian Century (now no longer publishing).  This woman is tired of the emphasis moving from the happy welcome of Jesus to the reason for that entrance (suffering and death).  Not a few Lutherans lament the Palm to Passion Sunday evolution.

But of course.  Who would not want to have a happy day of festive palms and hosannas without remembering or drawing attention to the reason for His coming?!  We all want Palm Sunday without the Passion, Holy Thursday without the betrayal, Good Friday without the suffering and death, and Holy Saturday without the grave and the waiting.  We want to hop, skip, and jump right into Easter.  Thank God the Church is there to say "wait a minute."

Wait a minute, indeed!  This was not some happy carefree day of happy palms, joyful shouts, welcome hugs, and festive dress.  Your king comes to you humble, mounted on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.  Let's be real here!  Jesus does not enter as the man of triumph but the man of humility, of sorrows, and of suffering.  He is come not for the crowd but to for the cross.  The crowd (even Peter and the disciples) wanted a happy festive day without talk of the nasty business to come.  We all do.  But Jesus will have none of it.  He is come not to receive our adulation and praise but to mount the altar of the cross and offer Himself, priest and victim, for the sins of the whole world.

Little Larry did not get it that Palm Sunday when he was confirmed.  He was hoping simply to honor his family and not screw up in front of them.  He was praying not in thanksgiving for the cross but for an easy question whose answer he had already memorized.  Maybe you do not get it either.  We cannot have Palm Sunday without the Passion.  Palm Sunday does not end with a good time being had by all.  It ends in betrayal, in suffering, and in death.  The cross is not antithetical to the story but its center and purpose.

This is why we come.  Parties happen everywhere.  The death that gives us life happened only once, in Jerusalem so long ago, amid schizophrenic crowds who shouted "Blessed is He" and "Crucified Him" all at the same time.  Parties are made up events.  The cross was planned.  Jesus ducked from death many times until He rode into Jerusalem to meet it as the One who would conquer it by dying there and so win salvation for us.  I am ever so thankful that the Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday marriage leads us to the whole picture.  It took a long time before I realized that the party was not the focus but the cross.  Once I got that about the Sunday before Easter, I began to learn the same lesson about the nature of Christian faith and life.

1 comment:

Timothy Buelow said...

I've always wondered if the shift from Palm Sunday to Passion Sunday had more to do with offering the Passion History to those too lazy to come to Wednesday night Vespers during Lent. Since we have good Wednesday Vespers attendance, we happily celebrate Palm Sunday still.