When I was child, I was always excited for Palm Sunday, it was one of the few days that us kids got to start church upstairs. We would get our palms and then parade around the church yard singing Ride on, Ride on in majesty completely out of tune, despite the organists attempt to play really loudly so we would hear the organ outside. Inevitably when we arrived back in the church, we would be either a half verse behind or ahead of the organist and about two notes off in pitch. Us kids would not return to our pews, we would march right down the aisle, past the altar and down the back stairs to go to Sunday school ending the joy I felt at parading around and singing and beginning the not so fun part of church, more school.
What I did not know then and what I am beginning to see now is that Holy Week is a paradox, it is a weeklong period during which our propensity to contradict ourselves is revealed (you did not know that I knew fancy words, like propensity, did you?). It is a week when we both mourn and celebrate death; when we both deny and celebrate life; when we both adore and fear the cross; and when we both hide and proclaim our love for Jesus.
We, like the people of Jerusalem two thousand years ago, began today by singing the praises of Jesus with the words “All glory, laud and honor to thee redeemer king!”. The people of Jerusalem were welcoming him, they had heard of him and his message and they were excited that he had decided to come to their ancient city. Today, Palm Sunday, is about welcoming Jesus into our lives, it is about shouting our excitement to be beloved children of God from the roof tops, which is partially why many churches process through the streets with palms singing “Hosanna in the highest!” as a public witness to the joy they experience as followers of Christ Jesus.
However, the joy does not last forever, in the days following his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem Jesus set to work cleansing the temple and debating the Pharisees over the finer points of who he was and from whom he drew authority. It was these events that caused the Jewish leaders to turn on him. They began to see him as a threat to their way of life and to their power and authority. As soon as he said things they did not want to hear, as soon as he suggested that they needed to change, they turned on him. So, within days Jesus went from being greeted with shouts of “Hosanna in the highest” as he rode through the streets to the same people, in the same streets, shouting “crucify him”. How often do we act like this? How quickly do we turn our backs on Jesus? Genuinely praising him and then throwing him under the bus with our inaction and short attention span.
The Israelites of the first century had been waiting for their messiah to save them, but once they heard what was required, they changed their minds. Many people, including us, would like to end poverty, feed the hungry, house the homeless, until we find out it is going to costs us something. We have an advantage over the ancient Israelites and that is we live in a post resurrection world. They did not know that death was not the end. Jesus knew that his death would have a purpose, which does not mean that he wanted to die, it simply means that he knew it was necessary. His death and resurrection show us that there is life after death and by that I do not mean that we go to heaven, what I mean that there is life after the pain of loss, there is life after suffering, but for that life to happen, for that change to occur, for the kingdom of God to be realized, for creation to be restored we need to die and be reborn. We need to let go of the pain and suffering, but to do that we need to work through it and be open to whatever may be on the other side. The problem is that we are usually afraid. We are afraid of being wrong, we are afraid that we will lose something, and that fear, that very real fear, is holding us back. It is our fear of losing what we have that keeps us from being true followers of Jesus and because of that we contradict ourselves. We claim to believe in the teachings of Jesus, but when it comes to truly following them, we struggle to do the hard work, we struggle to change our behaviors, we struggle with the idea that we might be wrong, we resist the idea of change even when we give lip service to the need to do so, and ultimately, we deny that we may be a part of the problem, we deny that we are the Pharisees.
As Good Friday approaches we need to reflect on our own complicity in the death of Jesus, and figure out which ideas, behaviors, and feelings we need to let die. We need to figure out what is keeping us from fully embracing the life God has in store for us. We need to figure out what we are afraid of losing. The Good news is that we do not need to do it alone because, through God’s grace, in the form of scripture and our fellow believers, will guide us, but for it to work we must be willing to do the hard work. Step one is accepting God into our lives, step two is figuring out at what point we switch from “Hosanna in the Highest” to “crucify him” so that we can leave it behind and experience a resurrected life.