I don’t think that it’s any secret that I’m not a fan of today, this strange amalgamation of two distinct days, Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Passion. Not only is it a strange mix of two very different days that commemorate two very different and seemingly unrelated events but just happen to appear close to each other in the chronology of Jesus’ life, but also I’m never sure what colour to wear. Is it Lent so I wear purple? Or is it something else? They sometimes call for scarlet which isn’t quite red and so I’d have to go buy more of these stoles just for the one day? Sigh. Purple it is, of course, but I don’t like it.
But mostly, I don’t like how they mix Palm Sunday and Sunday of the Passion. It just seems weird. Actually, the Sunday of the Passion wasn’t even a thing until recent years (and by recent I mean like the past 70 or 80 years), and church leaders found that Good Friday attendance was dropping (and by dropping I mean they were in the hundreds instead of the thousands). And the powers that be thought that it would be inappropriate to go from the celebratory Palm Sunday, waving the branches, shouting hosanna, all that cool stuff and just go directly into the celebratory Easter the following week without some alluding at least to the Passion narrative as we call it. They figured that hey, the death needs to be in there. We can’t have a resurrection without a death. It wouldn’t even be a resurrection, it’d be more like a “hey, didn’t I just see you last week?”
Without the passion, there will be no pain, no sorrow, no guilt.
And maybe that is why I don’t like this day all that much. Maybe that is why so many people avoid the Good Friday service as well. Maybe that is why in general, people just aren’t all that into religion anymore. It’s because of the guilt. The guilt that comes from not measuring up to whatever standard is given. The guilt of not being able to follow certain rules that any religion upholds. The guilt of just not being good enough. No one likes that. No one wants it. We avoid it when we can. We would much rather just be happy all the time and be told that we’re good and smart and doggone it people like us. That doesn’t happen on Good Friday or the Passion part of today. Not really at least.
Palm Sunday, however, now that we can get behind. Waving branches? Oh yeah, that’s the stuff. Marching around the church? Yup, we’re down. Singing hosanna? We don’t know what it means, but sure sounds good. Most importantly, no guilt. No shame. No wagging finger making us feel bad about ourselves. Again, we’d much rather just be happy and be reminded of how we’re loved and we feel good enough to even love God back.
But… don’t even the Gentiles love those who love them? Aren’t even sinners good to those who are good to them? Isn’t it easy to be generous with those who you know will pay you back?
See Jesus came to earth to love, to be good to others, and be generous in grace and mercy and blessing regardless of who the people are or what they do or what they believe. And sometimes we get it, we really do. We genuinely accept God’s gifts and believe in God’s promises. We honestly worship and praise out of appreciation. We openly wave literal and figurative palm branches singing hosanna, meaning “save us, we pray” or “thank you for saving us” or “we praise you for being you”. Sometimes, we just get it.
Other times, however, we just don’t. And this isn’t to induce guilt, it is just to state a fact. Other times, we would rather be comfortable and not be stirred up to do things for people. Other times we’d rather stay angry and hold that grudge than to forgive. Other times we’d rather deny Christ than welcome him and his teachings in our lives.
We don’t like to admit it, but it’s true. We don’t like to revel in the areas of our lives that are a bit less faithful and Christian-like. We don’t like to point out the fact that we aren’t all good, all the time. We don’t like to feel guilty over our role in crucifying Jesus.
But I don’t think that is the point of this day, the passion narrative, or even the crucifixion itself. I don’t think God is out to make us feel guilty, or put us down, or wag that celestial finger in our directions and shaming us. I don’t think that we are singled out in any way as responsible for the death of Christ.
More like all of us are collectively responsible, because of that condition called sin. Our tendency to be angry, to hate, to be violent. Our times when we’d rather be comfortable, do our own thing, and have Jesus leave us alone. The dysfunctional relationship on our part with God. Those are the things that killed Jesus. And those are things that just in us all, every human of every time and place.
Yeah, we do sometimes get it, like on Palm Sunday. And other times we don’t, like on the Sunday of the Passion. So on the same dang day we both get it and don’t. On this one day, we are reminded of the dichotomy in ourselves, the good and bad sides, the giving and selfish sides, the saint and sinner sides. We all have those in us, those tendencies, those parts of who we are as human.
But that is what makes us complete, that is what makes us whole and thought out, that is what reminds us of the vastness of God’s love. That while we are sinner we are made to be saint, God continues to love all of us, as we are, blemishes and all. See while the story of the Palms reminds us how we can get it at times and God loves that, the story of the Passion reminds us that God still loves us even when we don’t.
Because… Jesus didn’t die to stop us from being sinners, but Jesus died to show us just how much we’re loved as we are sinners and will continue to be so. We are reminded that we’re loved when we get it and when we don’t. We are reminded that we’re loved when we are good and when we’re bad. We are reminded that we’re loved when we appreciate God and when we are guilty of not. We are not called to be perfect, but we are called to know God’s forgiveness and love.
And that is the point: that we are loved and forgiven.
Wholly, dearly, and completely, we are loved. Through the good, bad, ups, downs, understanding and not, God continually reaches out God’s hand to us, revealing to us our value and worth, offering us welcome and community, and showing us how nothing in all of heaven and earth, not troubles, persecution, wars, famines, hardship, not even death can remove us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord.
As we enter into this most holy of weeks, may we continue to reflect on God’s love, God’s open, all-encompassing, and welcoming love, that we might be able show that love to all we meet, and even to ourselves. Thanks be to God. Amen.