Sunday, March 29, 2015

From Palms and Hosannas to Crucify Him. . .

As we begin Holy Week, there is a perennial debate among Lutherans over the Sunday which was called Palm Sunday and now is called Passion Sunday.  I must admit that it is a curious one for me.  When I grew up the majority of Lutherans I knew had confirmation on Palm Sunday.  Instead of Jesus riding in on the back of a donkey, a row or two of finely groomed young men in the first real suits and young women in their white, lacy dresses were assembled for the rite Luther loved to hate -- confirmation.  So we did not hear much of Jesus entrance into Jerusalem amid palms and hosannas nor did we pay much attention to what was coming later in the week.  It meant one thing to us -- no more catechism class!  Yeah!  The two hours on Saturday mornings sitting quietly except to repeat memory work would finally come to an end.  Who could not be happy about that?  It was, at least in our minds and the minds of our relieved parents who saw us finally finished, a much more important occasion than what happened in the Gospel. So maybe this has soiled my perception of the argument in favor of palms and tilted my sympathies toward the passion over the palms.  I cannot say that I am objective about this but I am not without appreciation for the argument which changed the day.

Some complain that the reading of the Passion overshadows the rest of the week and renders the individual stories of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday superfluous.  I disagree.  We do have palms and hosannas -- where they belong in the great procession that enters Holy Week by following Jesus through the crowds to the cross.  We do pay attention to the grand welcome in which the Savior came to His appointed destiny humble and mounted on a donkey.  But we do this in the context of the larger outcome.  Jesus did NOT come for the crowds or the accolades or the welcome.  He came for the cross.  In the past the palms gave us a glory moment which was not Jesus' primary glory.  He came for the glory of the cross.

Yes, I agree.  It is cumbersome to read the whole Passion story in one fell swoop.  It is long.  It taxes the skill of the reader and the listener.  But such is the weight of these words that we at least once in Holy Week hear it all -- from beginning to end -- before we explore the smaller stories inside the big one.  Yes, it does kill the surprise ending but the Church and those who have gathered to celebrate the day already know the surprise ending -- we know He dies and we know He rises again.  This is exactly why we come.  To hear it all again -- the old story retold again, not for dramatic effect, but because this IS the Gospel. 

So sing All Glory, Laud, and Honor and wave the palms and shout the hosannas.  But make sure that on this Sunday everyone knows where this goes -- to the cross.  And don't forget to sing one of the great Lenten chorales (O Sacred Head, A Lamb Alone Goes Willingly, etc.) or one of my personal favorites, No Tramp of Soldier's Marching Feet.