Palm Sunday will be very strange this year. Instead of waving palm branches and walking into the church while singing, “All Glory Laud and Honor,” we’ll be watching the online version. Instead of hearing the Lord’s passion read aloud with fellow believers, this too will be done individually online. The day will definitely be different but if caring for your neighbor’s well being (health) is important, then this is what you do. Yes, Palm Sunday will not be the same in terms of tradition but the drama unfolding will not change. On display is humanity’s betrayal, politics, cruelty, attempts to control God and cry for death. In contrast is the Lord’s outpouring of forgiveness and in response to his death, the whole earth was shaking.
The reading begins with Judas already having betrayed Jesus whom he called “teacher” at the Passover meal (note that all of the other disciples called Jesus, “Lord”). Peter has denied his relationship with Jesus in the courtyard. Pilate sits in judgment but he was no political hack. The crowd was getting unruly so Pilate washed his hands of the events unfolding and declared his innocence. The crowd wanted a known criminal released and for the blood of Jesus to be on their heads and the heads of their children (notice that Jesus declared at the Passover meal the wine was his blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins). Up to the moment of Jesus taking his last breath was a horrid description of brutality and torture. Palm Sunday’s unfolding drama showcases just how quickly our voices of praise can be corrupted with shouts for death and political power grabs.
When Jesus died, the Gospel of Matthew records that the earth shook and rocks split apart. The Temple’s curtain was torn in half. The curtain served to separate people from God’s holy presence. The curtain torn apart now declares that nothing stands between us and God. It also serves as a reminder that God cannot be held behind a barrier, regardless of our foolish ideas. Matthew tells that saints who had died were raised to life as tombs were opened. Also, the centurion and others standing guard at the cross declared, “Surely he was the Son of God.”
Palm Sunday is going to be very different this year which will be frustrating from our traditions. However if you care about your neighbor’s health, this is what you do. While the day will be different, the story of our Lord’s passion still remains the same. Despite our claims of innocence, our rebellion, our sin is lived out each day in brutality toward our neighbor and creation. Jesus’ blood shed on the cross was an act done for the forgiveness of our sin. The torn curtain declares that God will not be held back from this world…not even by Covid-19. The earthquake and opened tombs are a vivid declaration that the very foundation of our understanding of life and this world are about to undergo a dramatic change. Next Sunday, Easter will announce that change.