Here are my thoughts for Palm Sunday, 2007.
There is a degree of irony in Palm Sunday being on April 1st this year. The tradition of April 1st as “April Fool’s Day” is supposed to have begun when the calendar was changed from the Julian version to the Gregorian version in 1582. Prior to that time, the beginning of the New Year was April 1st. With the changes in the calendar, the beginning of the year was moved backed to January 1st.
Those who continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1st either did not know of the change or refused to make the change. Others made fun of these two groups of individuals and thus the tradition of trickery on April 1st. It appears that there is no historical evidence to back this commonly held belief. One reason is that England did not make the shift to the Gregorian calendar until 1752 but April Fool’s Day was well established in England by that time. So there must be some other reason for the celebration of foolery that occurs on this day.
But more importantly, today is Palm Sunday and it is a celebration that transcends other events. But it is a celebration that we have a hard time understanding. We see it as some precursor to Good Friday and Easter Sunday but we know very little about what transpired on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. In a world where the celebration of Good Friday as a holiday has passed quietly away, we spend most of Palm Sunday focusing on the events of Good Friday without considering what Jesus did on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
The problem with the Gospel reading for today (1) is that we do not know what transpired that week. The passage from Luke takes us from the celebrations of Palm Sunday to the celebrations of Easter Sunday without knowing or understanding what else transpired during that fateful week. If we are not careful, if we do not read the other Gospels, then we are likely to forget why this week is so important. In moving from the celebrations of today to the crucifixion on Friday and the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, we forget the reasons why the religious authorities were so adamant about having Jesus arrested and put to death. The irony of it all is that if we do not know what happened on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday then we cannot understand what transpired on Thursday and Friday.
What happened during this week that is so much a focus of our lives as Christians? Why did Jesus ride into Jerusalem from the east on a donkey? According to Mark, it was Jesus’ intention to confront Roman imperial power and religious collaboration with it. While Jesus was entering the city from the east, Pilate was riding into Jerusalem from the west in a manner to symbolize and remind the people that Roman ruled the land. Pilate entered with a procession of troops and cavalry while Jesus entered on a donkey. This symbolism was to remind the people of Zechariah 9: 9 – 10 where the king of peace comes to us on a donkey who will banish war and strife from the land.
The contrast between the actions of Jesus and the church is very clear and it is very deliberate. For on Monday, Jesus cleanses the temple of the money changers. The religious authorities of that day had long collaborated with the Roman authorities and Jesus’ action of throwing out the money changers was a reminder that the temple authorities had turned the temple into a den of thieves.
On Tuesday, Mark writes a series of conflict stories that speak of the coming destruction of the temple. We are reminded that the authorities looked for some reason to arrest Jesus for such activities but they were unable to because the crowds protected Him.
We have, I think, all been lead to believe that the same crowds who cheered and supported Jesus during the week were the crowds who called for His crucifixion. But, as we read the account of that gathering we see that it took place in Pilate’s courtyard where ordinary people would not have access. Those who called for Christ’s crucifixion were supporters of the religious authorities and Pilate. It only makes sense that those who were opposed to Jesus would want to insure that Pilate get rid of the one man who threaten their very way of life. (2)
The irony of this week is that we haven’t learned what this week is about. Our political and more widely known religious leaders call for a restoration of moral values but only as it pertains to us. They somehow think that they are exempt from this call. Prominent politicians called for the impeachment of President Clinton because of his marital infidelity while engaging in the similar acts of marital infidelity. Pastors condemn homosexuality while engaging in the very acts that they condemn.
Jesus came as a servant yet many of the more noted pastors live lifestyles that make opulence look understated. Jesus came as the king of peace yet our leaders, both political and religious seek the establishment of another Roman empire. And the irony of it all is that we celebrate Palm Sunday but when the work week begins, we are like Peter, denying Christ as our Savior.
As Lent ends, let us remember why this week must be observed; let us remember that Jesus came as a servant and He asks us to be the same. Paul wrote to the Philippians and reminded them that Jesus sought to be a servant first, even though He had every right to be the One and Only King. (3) For us, it would be the best of ironies if we were to seek God through Christ and not reject him. It would be the best of ironies if we were to become the servant to others and let Jesus be the One and Only King.
(1) Luke 22:14 – 23: 56
(2) Adapted from “Collision Course” by Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan, Christian Century, March 20, 2007
(3) Philippians 2: 5 -11