Here are my thoughts for Palm Sunday.
As you probably know by now, I am a Southern boy, born in the South and raised by a Southern momma. To repeat the traditional saying, I am Southern born, Southern bred and when I die I will be Southern dead. But just because I grew up in the South doesn’t mean that I held onto to the traditions of the South.
Segregation was still the tradition and the rule when I was in the seventh grade in Alabama and when I was a junior and senior in high school in Tennessee. I was in school in Colorado and Missouri the years between since my father was in the Air Force at the time. So I was affected by the rules and traditions but I also saw other ways of living as well.
It used to be a tradition that one stood during the playing of “Dixie”, especially during football games (football has its own set of traditions in the South but we won’t go into them today). “Dixie” is an interesting song in that everyone thinks it is a Southern song but it was written by a Yankee in New York City and, during the Civil War, it was apt to be sung by both sides of the fight. During those first few times that it was played, I stood primarily because everyone else stood. But as this was repeated in other games, I was very uncomfortable doing so, because it wasn’t out of homesickness or loneliness that the song was played (as was the case one hundred years before); rather, it was often played out of defiance and I had to question the justification of acting in defiance because you didn’t like someone changing traditions, such as segregation. But it wasn’t easy not standing, as anyone who has gone against the crowd or popular notion can tell you.
To some extent, that is how some people celebrate Palm Sunday. There is a celebration at the beginning of the week as Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph but there is no celebration and the cheering is replaced by jeers by the end of the week. I think that Christianity is very much like that at times. We want the celebration of the kingdom but we do not want to face what entering into the kingdom is all about.
Though I may have said it and written it in the past, I am not sure that everyone who cheered on Sunday was in the crowd at the end of the week who called for Christ’s crucifixion. But many of those on Sunday undoubtedly were in that Friday crowd and were among those who called for Christ’s crucifixion. It is the nature of people to go with the crowd. And if some of the crowd is cheering, then most of the crowd will do likewise. If some in the crowd are jeering, then the rest of the crowd will probably do the same. It is only natural.
Did some of the people cheer Jesus that first Palm Sunday because he went against the traditions of the time? Did they cheer because he went against the crowd? I would hope so. As Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, Jesus took the form of man even though He was in the form of God. (1) And in the human form, He took on the role of slave, humbling Himself on the Cross. How can that not be going against tradition? How can that not be going against the crowd?
There were those who did not want to see Jesus succeed, among them the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They were the ones who feared that people would see the truth; that the way to salvation and freedom from sin and death came through Christ and not through the rigidity of society that they fought so hard to maintain and control. There are those today who do the same; they do not want you or me to go against the crowd and see the truth. They would rather that you let them lead you, rather than let you travel your own way.
It is clear that some in the crowd that first Good Friday were there to incite the crowd, to get them to demand the release of Barabbas rather than Jesus. It is clear today that many of our modern Pharisees and Sadducees feel the same as their ancient counterparts. Too many churches today go with the flow, accepting the negative views of the world and offering nothing that remotely resembles the Gospel message that Jesus gave us two thousand years ago.
The message of today’s society is very clear. Follow the crowd, cheer when the crowd cheers, and jeer when the crowd jeers. It is okay to think you are an individual, just as long as what you think as an individual is the same as everyone else thinks.
I do not know how many of those who cheered on that first Palm Sunday cried on Good Friday when the crowd called for Jesus’ crucifixion. I do not know how many of the crowd cried when the Roman soldiers pounded the nails into His hands and feet. Some certainly did, for Jesus gave them hope, Jesus told them that tomorrow would be different.
We have to make a choice this Palm Sunday. It is alright to cheer today but that is because we know how this week will turn out. But many who cheered that Palm Sunday some two thousand years ago wanted an earthly kingdom, a promise that riches and glory would be theirs. They were the ones who called for crucifixion on Friday; they are the ones who called for Barabbas to be set free. They are the ones who cheer today but will finish the week in sadness and grief. Their hopes and dreams die on the cross.
Where will you be? Will you walk away, saying “He saved others but He could not save Himself?” Will you walk away, turning your back on the hopes and promises that the Cross means? Or will you be there when they crucified Christ, when they drove the nails into His hands and feet? Will you be there at the tomb next Sunday morning, celebrating the ultimate victory over sin and death? Or will you wonder what the celebration is all about?
Sometimes, it is nice to be with the crowd. I am sure that the crowd on Palm Sunday was a happy and joyous one. It is a crowd we all want to be a part of. And I don’t think that anyone of us wants to be a part of the crowd that gathered outside the palace of Pontius Pilate and called for Jesus to be crucified. But we can easily be swayed by the crowd around us. We already know that there won’t be much of a crowd next Sunday crowded around to see if He is still there. But that is where we should be and it doesn’t matter if the crowd we are with today is there or not. Will we be a part of the crowd that cheers on Palm Sunday and jeers on Good Friday? Or we will be part of the crowd that cheers on Easter? That is the choice we have this week.
Philippians 2: 5 – 6