bittersweet sunday

During this past week I've been wondering, does anyone else feel little odd during Palm Sunday celebrations? You know, the gathering where everyone (or perhaps just the kids) waves palm branches, proclaiming "Hosanna" just as the crowds did during Jesus' actual entrance into Jerusalem (Mt. 21:9). While declaring Jesus "Lord" in itself is not odd (see Rom. 10:9-13), we know from the rest of the Passion week narrative that it's this same crowd who turns on Jesus. It turns out, the king they welcome with a royal inauguration is not the king they expected. Their "Hosanna's" were full of confused expectations for who their Messiah was and what he would do. As one commentator points out, “when Jesus shows that he is a different kind of Messiah than that of the popular expectation, the people will no longer support him. Paradoxically they will send the one they now receive with such jubilation to his death on the cross” (Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28). In fact, in the midst of the celebration, rather than marveling in the attention, Jesus is brought to tears:

"As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your did not recognize the time of God's coming to you" (Lk. 19:41,44)

Jesus' lament, I believe, centers around the misconceptions the people had for who he was and why he was there.
In the words of storyteller Walter Wangerin, Jesus “was not rejoicing in the public acclaim, nor glorying in the advent of his kingdom now. He was crying! He was gazing at the stones of the city and allowing tears to run down his face…the tone was defeat” (The Book of God). The peoples' praise at Jesus' entrance was filled with their own expectations for how Jesus would bring them back into the "good life" - a time in which Israel once again literally reigned in the world as God's people. Essentially, "Hosanna" was filled with their own hopes and dreams. For Jesus, this is something worth crying over.

The story of Palm Sunday, then, makes we question our own lives, our own worship. How do our "Hosanna's" - our worship celebrations - simply project our ideas for the "good life"? Do we, like the crowds in Jerusalem, have misconceptions about what we're celebrating when we remember Jesus? It's these questions that make Palm Sunday bittersweet. Yes, Jesus is our Lord and King, but do we really get what that entails? Or, in the words of N.T. Wright, do we follow "conventional wisdom"
in which "the way of the Messiah would be the way of fulfillment and self-aggrandizement: those who wanted to gain their lives would have to fight for them." We're challenged in our definition of faith and discipleship, as Wright continues: "Jesus’ most subversive teaching, in both form and content, consisted in just this: that the way of wisdom meant taking up the cross, dying in order to live” (Jesus and the Victory of God).

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it (Mk. 8:34-35)


Ryan said...

Thanks for this Dave. Very timely words...

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