Sunday, March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday | When the Triumph is Missing from the Entry

When I was young, Palm Sunday was this weird, pre-Easter worship service that didn't make a ton of sense. All the kids got palm branches to wave around, and we talked about how Jesus rode into Jerusalem, hailed and celebrated for this crazy magical few hours as the king. But unless it was the first time you'd ever heard the story, you knew a few days later he was going to be betrayed, tortured, and finally crucified. So, the celebration seemed like a strange kind of party that as a kid I thought could not have meant much to Jesus himself. I always pictured him as extremely somber, and sort of sad while everyone around him was jubilant and, what seemed to me, kind of shallow in their adoration.

But for centuries the church has been remembering this somber and strangely celebratory beginning to the Holy Week, a week that has so impacted the world with it's events that it is still influencing and instructing even parts of culture that are not religious institutions. The recent film Calvary (2014) depicted an Irish priest and the events that took place in his small town of parishioners over the course of a week. The film was dark and gritty and not a little hard to watch, but no less so than the actual events that took place in that first Holy Week, and there was something impactful about the deeply human realities the film reflected. So as strange as this Sunday of celebrating a Triumphal Entry that really seems more like an anti-triumph is, there is something about it that shapes and informs us.

Henri Nouwen said this in his book, With Open Hands,

"When your life is more and more becoming a prayer, you notice that you are always busy converting yourself and gaining and ever-deeper understanding of your fellow [human beings]. You notice, too, that prayer is the pulse of the world you live in. If you are really praying, you can't help but have critical questions about the great problems the world is grappling with, and you can't get rid of the idea that a conversion is not only necessary for yourself and your neighbor, but for the entire human community."

I felt that this week. That feeling that the more my heart poured out and pored over prayers for people, the more it seemed I had so far to grow in understanding and loving them. And the world, both in my small localized community, and in the swaths of humanity at large-- the political mores of our homeland and our home here abroad, how could it not make me feel that anything less than conversion and renewal is still our greatest human need?

One of the students in our high school wrote a poem that took first place this week at the local Literary Festival. In it, she talked about how her life is one shaped by a family that calls upon the God we celebrate at Easter, and yet her heart is filled with questions about the sufferings and tragedies, the seeming unfair advantages she has been dealt in this world compared to so many. And at the end, she says that these questions won't go away, but neither will you, God. And that he came once and gave what was needed, not what was asked for, and this is what we look to when we don't understand the hand we've been given.

So Palm Sunday is about crying "Hosanna!" which means, Save, I pray.

I can't help but think on this remembrance of the Triumphal Entry, when inside I'm feeling less than triumphant about life circumstances, and sometimes not even sure about what the work of God looks like in this world, that this is not new territory. I remember the old old story, to speak to me about the one I'm presently living. Jesus walked into the city, a false celebration and misunderstanding rampant all around him, and surely he must have felt burdened about the way the world was turning. Surely the irony of circumstances was not lost on him. And yet he did not give in to cynicism or despair, but entrusted himself to the path laid out for him on that fateful week. He knew salvation was coming. He knew the cost.

Looking back, but living in the present, and wanting so badly for hope to shape how I walk forward into the future, how can I do less on this day than cry out, Hosanna... Save, I pray. It's a declaration, and a prayer; a living with the present realities, but walking in faith that we will never be resigned to them.

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