Tomorrow is Palm Passion Sunday. It is my favorite day of the year… which might sound a little odd. You’d expect a pastor to say that Easter or Christmas Eve were their favorite days of the year. But if you ask me, it is Palm Passion Sunday that answers the why of Christmas and Easter. In a certain sense, without Palm Passion Sunday, there’d be no need for Christmas or Easter.
When I was a child, that last Sunday before Easter was comprised of nothing other than the pure joy of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday. It was festive and cheery… Just as the palm parade must have been for Jesus that day so long ago. Attendance was good because, after all, who doesn’t love a parade?
But, as Protestants, not many people returned for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday worship. Nothing cheery about those days. Who really wants to hear the dreadful news that all of Jesus’ disciples ditched him like the sniveling cowards they were. Who wants to hear the ugly description of Jesus being whipped, spit on, mocked and having a crown of thorns pressed into his head. Who wants to think about him hanging from a cross gasping for air.
Years ago, the Methodist Church began to emphasize that Sunday before Easter as Palm Passion Sunday. And now, even if you only go to church on Sunday, there’s no avoiding the ugliness of it all… not to mention the jolt to our systems. Within one hour of worship we go from waving palm branches and singing “Hosanna, loud hosanna” to hearing the pastor speak the words of that first century mob: “Crucify him!”
But is life, our day to day life, really any less jolting? It seems to me that all around us, everyday, people who ought to know better and ought to do better ditch “the better” in order to save their own necks. Anywhere we find the threat of blame or punishment, we can also find a lot of buck passing. We talk about peer pressure among children but watch any adult fold if living out their principles comes at too high a personal price.
People can turn on a dime. I remember the old Bill Cosby monologue about him fixing breakfast for his children. His wife always did it and he didn’t know what to do. Faced with a table of hungry children, he spotted the leftover chocolate cake from the prior evening’s dinner on the counter. He sliced that up and put it on plates in front of the kids who began to chant “Dad is great; gives us chocolate cake…” until his wife came round the corner in her bath robe. Cheering ceased. Even the youngest among us learn quickly how to keep our heads low when things get dicey. After all, it’s just more expeditious to put the blame on one guy than to mess things up for everyone… so said Caiaphas, the high priest who decided it was time to put an end to that rebel rousing rabbi named Jesus.
Fear makes us do ugly things. It’s makes us say things we shouldn’t and go mum when we know we ought to speak up. To put it in a nutshell: fear makes us think first of saving our own skin. So God came, enfleshed among us, to live and to die out of faithfulness, not fear; out of sacrifice, not envy.