How Do We Do Palm Sunday?

A Meditation for 20 March 2016, Palm Sunday (Year C).

Here are my thoughts concerning Palm Sunday this year. I most certainly would like to hear your thoughts about what I have written.

For me, Palm Sunday is an enigma, if that is the right word to use. The theology and scriptures for this Sunday are well known and quite clear; it is how you “do” this Sunday that is sometimes confusing.

Let me begin by saying that I have done traditional Palm Sunday services. Time and place dictated that was what I would be doing. And I know that others, with time and experience on their side, might have a better understanding of what needs to be done.

In one aspect, one’s plans for Palm Sunday depend somewhat on the nature of the church where the service is being held. If you are only doing a Palm Sunday service and an Easter service with nothing during the week, then Palm Sunday actually becomes Passion Sunday and you have to cram an entire week’s worthy of noteworthy activity into one Sunday (something I tried to do with my monologue “Do You Understand?”).

But if you have scheduled services for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, then you only have to concern yourself with what happened on Sunday and perhaps Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. And with the exception of what I thought happened on Tuesday (when Jesus threw the money-changers out of the Temple, at least in terms of Matthew, Mark, and Luke; the Gospel of John has it happening at the beginning of the ministry rather than at the end), nothing much happens.

And through it all, there is Saturday, which I have come to call “The Missing Day”. I originally wrote this as a monologue but I have since worked on it to make it a short play with 4 characters to be performed on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday; if you are interested, drop me a note and I will share what I have prepared.

The problem is that, other that what is written in the Gospels, we really don’t know much about what happened that week. Of course, when this was all happening, no one bother to take any notes and, as the age-old proverb goes, if it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist. So we are left with the memories of one or two people forty or fifty years after it all happened upon we can build our ideas and thoughts.

And that is what I think we need to do, especially on Palm Sunday. We need to put ourselves into the places of the disciples and their friends, of the people who stood on the streets laying down the palms and cheering, of some of the visitors who have come to Jerusalem for the first time in their lives.

Perhaps we need to put ourselves in the role of the political and religious establishment. There seems to be a sentiment in the writing that this was not the first time someone had entered Jerusalem during Passover proclaiming himself to be the new messiah. Some documentaries note that the Roman authorities always seemed to be on edge when it was Passover because that was a time of possible turmoil and unrest. I recall someone saying that while Jesus was entering Jerusalem on the donkey on one side of town, Pontius Pilate was entering Jerusalem on a fine white stallion in another part of Jerusalem. If this is correct, then the tensions throughout the whole city would have been high and the authorities and their personnel would have been on high alert.

Or perhaps we should do a more modern version of Palm Sunday, having Jesus come into our city or town. How would He be dressed? What sort of entourage would accompany Him? Would there be others, proclaiming themselves as the true messiah? Would others be calling for revolution and the overthrow of the government? And were would each one of us be in all of this? Given all that takes place in our city today, with the whole idea of Christianity under attack, by those who don’t believe and those whose belief is most certainly flawed, would we even care about what was to happen.

In the end, whatever we do for Palm Sunday, we have to understand that Palm Sunday is the first of eight days during which the world changes. Only one person understood that on that first Palm Sunday and many of those who were there that day would never understand.

Our challenge is not to simply “do” Palm Sunday; it is to understand that Palm Sunday begins a transition from simply watching the parade pass us by to becoming participants in the parade and then to become leaders of the new parade. How we do that will determine what Palm Sunday means to us.


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