Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” for this Palm Sunday, 5 April 2020 (Year A).
The title for this piece is based more on April 3rd and April 4th than it is on April 5th.
Still, when I think of Jesus entering Jerusalem on the First Palm Sunday, with the crowds cheering and celebrating, I cannot help but think they had their eyes on a prize. It was just that Jesus’ eyes were on a different prize.
The crowds were cheering that day because they saw Jesus as a sectarian messiah who had come to overthrow the religious and political authorities and replace them with a new set of authorities. No doubt many in the crowd saw Jesus’ entrance as the means for them to take over the power structure.
And we know that many in the crowd this Palm Sunday will be in the crowd on Good Friday calling for the execution of Jesus. Their eyes were on another prize and they were not going to recieve it.
There is no doubt that with one word, Jesus could have established a sectarian kingdom. He was given that opportunity three years before by the Evil One but turned it down.
On that first Palm Sunday, JEsus had his eyes on another prize, The Kingdom of God that would be open to all, no matter who they were. But Jesus knew that He had to go to Calvary for everyone to receive that prize.
On Friday of that first Holy Week, the disciples felt that the prize had been taken from them. But on that First Easter Sunday, they saw the Prize. It would take them time but the disciples would take the prize into the world..
I wrote a piece for my blog a few years ago entitled “Where Were YOu on April 4, 1968?” I was a senior in high school at Nicholas Blackwell HIgh School that year. I may have been aware that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Memphis to support the sanitation workers’ strike but my eyes were on another prize, graduating from high school and returning to my college studies at Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Truman State University).
If my classmates or their parents were aware of Dr. King’s presence, most of them would have seen him as an outsider and an interloper who had no business getting involved in Memphis’ affairs.
I do not recall if Dr. King’s speech on the evening of April 3rd was covered by the local media. But when he told the people who did hear him that night that he had been to the mountaintop and he had seen the Promised Land, you know that his eyes were on the prize of equality and justice. Whether he knew that he would be assassinated the next day is a matter of conjecture but Dr. King knew that there were many who did not want to see him succeed.
Even today, there are those who would seek to establish a religious and political system that separates the people. They seek a society where the door to God’s kingdom is closed, where entrance is denied because of their race, their gender or sexaual identity, or their economic status. Their vision of God’s kingdom looks very much like that religious/political establishment that opposed Jesus two thousand years ago.
Sadly, the events of the past few months have shown that Dr. King’s vision of the Promised Land has become enveloped by a mist and perhaps clouds of hatred and violence. What the pandemic has shown us is that the world is now even more separated by economic and political status, by geography and class. The dream, the prize of equality may still exist but it is now far off in the future, covered by the mist and clouds.
Tony Campolo noted that,
. . . if you think being religious, being Christian, being spiritual is getting ready for the next world, you’ve missed the message of Jesus. Jesus didn’t come here to get you ready for the next world, He came into this world to transform you into people through whom He could do His work in this world.
In 1968 my eyes were on another prize but one year later, in the chapel of 1st United Methodist Church I came to realize that the door to God’s kingdom was opened to me when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. And as I walked through that door, I set my eyes on the prize.
This year there will be no cheering crowds, no groups of children parading up and down the aisles of our churches waving palms as the congregation shouts “Hallelujah!” But that does not mean that the prize is not there.
In a few weeks, we will be able to come together as we once did. But all that has taken place over the past few months has given us a new understanding of the Prize that we have claimed and now must share with the world.
The world in which we live today may be separated by illness but it was separated by ignorance, hatred, and violence before that. We have been given a new vision of the Prize and we know that when we are allowed to gather together, one of the things we will do is share the Prize that we received.
So on this Palm Sunday, keep your eyes on the prize and hold on