Palm Sunday Makes Sense....

Much ink has been spilled to talk about the the crowds who, on Palm Sunday, laud Jesus as savior and on the next Friday call for his crucifixion. Suggestions have been put forward: maybe the Greek interpretation of "crowd" will show that the crowds are different on those days, or the people are just fickle, or even that it was God's will and so the people had to do this to fulfill scripture/will.

For me, Palm Sunday makes sense. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. The moment is pregnant with meaning. He simultaneously mocks the current political system, calls into question humanity's reliance on power, politics, and violence, and points to himself as the true king.

Anyone can understand this. There are a million stories just like it. It is a powerful archetype. The newest prequel to The Wizard of Oz called Oz: the Great and Powerful is based on this exact premise. A nobody from no-where shows up, seemingly fulfills the long-awaited prophecy, challenges the existing reign of the wicked witch, and is heralded as the savior of the people. And all that within the first 20 minutes. We get it, it resonates deep within us, and we love it.

And to be sure, Jesus does this. Jesus defeats the powers and principalities, sets up his own kingdom of peace, and gives the people freedom. This freedom is from the powers that oppress - outside and inside of us - the ones that destroy us and keep us from the potential we have as beings created in the image of God.

So what's the issue?

It is easy to see that the people wanted a leader of a rebellion against the current empire. It has to be in at least some of the people's mind who were waving palms in a Maccabean style and shouting for a savior when Jesus rides into town. We see this most specifically in the Barabbas episode:
Then they all shouted out together, ‘Away with this fellow [Jesus]! Release Barabbas for us!’ (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.’ But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished" (Luke 23:18-25, NRSV).
The people ask for the release of Barabbas in the place of Jesus. Not only is this story designed to plead for Jesus' innocence, but also show what the people wanted: a person who could start a rebellion and see it through with violence. Twice Luke tells us that Barabbas was in prison for insurrection and murder. He is willing to fight "the man" and back it up in a way that Jesus won't.

And this is precisely why Palm Sunday makes sense to us and Good Friday doesn't: Jesus defeats the powers, installs his kingdom, and sets us free - not in spite of his death - but through his death. For too long, and in too many churches, the cross of Christ has been seen as merely a catalyst for killing a sinless Messiah so that our sinfulness could be placed on him and his righteousness could be placed on us (double imputation). And to be fair, there is an element of truth in that. But the cross of Christ, the laying down of lives and sacrificing, is the way victory is won. Therefore, we read that Jesus "emptied himself, [took] the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him..." (Philippians 2). And by dying "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it" (Colossians 2).

Palm Sunday makes sense because we want a hero, humble, handsome, and honorable (huge? hairy?), to fight our enemies. Jesus' way of fighting is rejected because the bad guys are destroyed through self-sacrifice. It is the cruciform life, the cross-shaped life, that Christ calls us too as the only ethic for discipleship and kingdom citizens. It is here we hear our savior say, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it." (Luke 9 - see also chapter 14). True life is gained by living cross-shaped and doing so daily. It is how we find real salvation. It is how we follow Jesus.

The final question remains, what does sacrificial living look like for my everyday life? In discerning this process for yourself, I would steer you 3 ways. First, I would point to Jesus' general example. St. Peter writes, "Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness..." (1 Peter 2).

Second, I would encourage you to read, absorb, and live Christ's teaching in his Sermon on the Mount/Plain found generally in Matthew chapters 5-7 and Luke 6. Jesus ends his Sermon on the Mount by saying, "‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock" (Matthew 7).

Finally, I would point out that self-sacrificing cruciformity does not necessarily mean that we let people walk all over us or we never expect any thing or help from anyone else, though it could mean that. It is more important to see this less as "doing more" while silently suffering and more as a giving of one's self wholly over to advancing the Kingdom of God on earth. 

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