On Palm Sunday at our church, we do the whole palm processional, with the kids tromping in during the opening hymn, waving palm branches and grinning proudly. We celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the adoring crowds, the waving branches, the cloaks in the road, the whole nine yards. Everybody’s happy and smiling like this is just the best thing ever.
But it’s not.
Because it doesn’t end there. Jesus doesn’t ride up to the Temple and institute a new world order. He doesn’t usher in the Kingdom of God once and for all. He doesn’t, in fact, do anything. By the time he gets to the Temple, his adoring fans have vanished. He looks around. He leaves. That’s it. (If you don’t believe me, read Mark 11:1-11.)
He comes back the next day and turns over the money-changing tables, bars the Temple doors so no one can get through, and accuses the priests and the people of defiling God’s holy place, of being mercenaries and robbers.
And He doesn’t stop. He tells story after story about how bad the supposedly religious are, how great the poor and needy are, how the rejected are chosen, and the chosen rejected.
The priests are furious. Even Judas, one of the Twelve, is deeply disappointed enough that he’s willing to betray his teacher. The priests are gleeful and promise to give him money.
Jesus knows all this, and still He keeps at it, preaching His upside down kingdom. By Friday of that week, He’s managed to piss off the people of Jerusalem so badly that the same people who adulated Him on Sunday are now clamoring for His death, preferring to release a murderous thug onto the streets of the city rather than let this itinerant rabbi loose to call them out of their sorry lives and into a better one.
And that’s when the liturgy gets uncomfortable, that’s when I start to hate Palm Sunday, because we’ve reached the place where the worship leader says, “Pilate spoke to them: Whom do you want me to release for you, the criminal Barabbas or Jesus, called Christ?”
And we in the congregation cry out, Barabbas!
Then what should I do with Jesus?
Why? What evil has He done?
Let Him be crucified!
Let Him be crucified, we cry, loudly, all our voices joined together, demanding this one thing: the crucifixion of the One we claim to follow.
It’s our demand, our cry, our voices. It’s yours. It’s mine. And I hate having to acknowledge that this was not just those idiot people back then; it’s this idiot person right now, the one who looks back from the mirror and generally feels pleased with herself that she’s not like that. You know. Because I bet you do it, too.
But we are like that. We are the people who make this demand—every day, every hour—because of the way we live our lives, or fail to.
And our voices prevail.
Read it yourself.
The Lectionary passages for Palm/Passion Sunday are:
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 (Palm) or 31:9-16 (Passion)
Mark 11:1-11 (Palm) or 14:1-15:47 (Passion)