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.
The great declaration of the Christian faith is that Christ has died…Christ is risen…Christ will come again. This coming week is Holy Week and we look at the first part: Christ has died. I encourage all to attend Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services to grasp the depth of the Christian faith. This reading from Luke is long as it covers the passion from the Last Supper to his crucified death. The question is, “How could we?”
Following the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus goes with them to the Mount of Olives to pray. Judas Iscariot is absent because he left to betray Jesus. Suddenly Judas arrives with a crowd to arrest Jesus. A kiss of friendship is given. A sword is drawn. Jesus announces that the power of darkness is at hand while he is taken away.
There has been an ongoing conflict between Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven against the power of darkness. Now has come the time for the power of darkness to reveal itself. The next few hours the power of darkness reveals it’s true nature. Lies. Deceit. Violence. Normally rational people screaming for the death of an innocent man while leaders stir up emotions further. Their delirium has them demanding the release of a known murderer to see Jesus killed instead. Mockery. Kill. This is the power of darkness.
This is why Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and all of Holy Week are important. If we simply jump to Easter, then we excuse ourselves and sit like spectators watching a game to see who wins. We need to see the darkness. We need to recognize our involvement. We need to ask the question, “How could we allow ourselves to made pawns of the darkness?”
How could he? When this question is asked of Jesus, the answer is always ‘love.’ Yet the word is vague. There is a rare group of people willing to sacrifice their lives for someone else. We call them ‘heroes.’ Jesus gave of himself for a world lost in its darkness. This is why we call him, Savior. This is love.
For now the power of darkness seems unstoppable and Jesus is handed over. However, he takes his last breath on the cross in trust that the One who called light into existence will not let darkness prevail. Jesus took his last breath trusting that the One who created life will not let it be denied by the darkness.
This coming week, we take a long look at the darkness and ask “How could we?” We also ask, “How could he?”
There is an old phrase that goes something like this: “Don’t let the fox guard the chicken coop.” No kidding! Everyone knows that foxes like chicken for dinner. The phrase has the same merit today as it has throughout the generations. No one would obviously put the chickens at risk by letting the fox run the place. No one would want political leadership to take advantage of the people they are entrusted to protect. Yet this is the situation the reading is taken from for today.
Herod was in charge as the appointed ‘King of the Jews.’ He was a sly fox. Herod tried to appease the favor of the people by the many building projects he oversaw, including the Temple. Herod was also very brutal as he crushed any opposition which kept him in good standing with Rome. Herod was a sly fox. He knew how to work the system for his benefit and not for the good of the people.
A few Pharisees came to Jesus and told him to get out of town. Herod was there and wanted to see Jesus killed. Jesus called Herod a fox and then defined his position. The Kingdom of God was near with him. This kingdom would not be pushed aside for the likes of Herod. Do you want proof? Demons are cast out. People are healed of their diseases. Jesus was bringing the presence of God’s reign to the people. He was going to be busy doing this today, tomorrow and on the third day reach the goal. This work will be finished in Jerusalem. Too bad if Herod objects.
There is comfort in knowing Jesus would not be deterred from his goal. There is also sadness from the reality of how many times have I sided with the fox. How many times have we let a sly fox deceive us into our own destruction? The result is that the place where we should be most alive and feel the most secure is empty. We are left with a world that we have handed over to the foxes.
Jesus lamented how he longed to gather us together under his protective wing like a mother hen does to protect her chicks from the fox; the hen willing to sacrifice herself to satisfy the fox’s hunger. For now Jesus must be about his work today, tomorrow and finish on the third day. This will come into focus when the people shout, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” We observe that moment as Passion Sunday.