There is always a struggle in how best to describe Palm/Passion Sunday, both in writing and in conversation. Which is it? Palm or Passion? Or is it neither – something else, entirely perhaps?
To say that it is both -- more than the usual tongue-in-cheek tendency for Anglicans/ Episcopalians and our “both-and” heritage – to say that it is both is to fold our arms around the painful truths of life itself. Truths that we all know when we are most honest about who we are as people on pilgrimage in a broken world. Truths that steal the thunder out of any homily, sermon, or even this written reflection for Palm/Passion Sunday:
Our lives are a constant collision between joyous victory with all of its giddy hope and the crushing terror of the cross – the great disappointments, if not the death and destruction that often haunt us.
Christianity turns on this axis of the opposing worlds of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and the brutality of shameful execution. As Christians, we are a peculiar lot because of this: prone to probe the very depths of despair and talk about hope at the same time. Daring to look directly into the face of suffering with an unflinching gaze as we behold our God nailed to a tree, the One most intimately a part of us and all Creation slain by all that hungers for power over our lives and the life of the greater world. And yet daring to hope for a purpose in that which seems senseless.
The cross has forever been, in the Christian life at least, a point of terrible intersection between what is human, broken, and fragile and what is divine, perfect, and stronger than the fabric of space and time itself. It is also a point of intersection between the awful powers of domination and the freedom of God’s promises. It is the point where our deepest hatreds and fears are met by the gaze of One who forgives even in the hour of deepest suffering. It is the point where all our hopes and dreams are shattered by rough splinters and hideous nails. Where the deepest pains of our lives, individual and corporate, intersect with a love that reaches beyond time.
We are almost a Palm/Passion Sunday people in the end. Almost, because, of course, this day – nor Good Friday – marks the end of our story. Or rather, they mark the end of a particular story: the story of darkness where the rulers of all that is evil and all that clutches meanly at us – all that is spiteful, petty, and without compassion have their way. Where we are broken with God in Christ by all that is hideous and inhuman. All those dark places in our own hearts enthrall us for a moment, just as they did the crowds in Jerusalem and the leaders, too, from Pilate’s complacent arrogance to religious authorities clinging ruthlessly to domination: that one idol that spans the millennia and has too many other awful names to mention here.
Your cross, my cross, and our shared cross, come to Golgotha with Jesus’ cross. And as we say in our baptism, we are somehow hoisted with him, too, left out to hang in cold and callous ways by evil.
My failings and selfishness, just like yours and all that we share together is in the crowds demanding the blood of the innocent, thirsty for a spectacle that might assuage us of that gnawing sense that something is wrong. . . or, heaven forbid, that we might be wrong.
My coldness, your coldness, and ours together is Pilate washing his hands of the matter, callously handing over an innocent to be brutally murdered in the name of order, our peace of mind, and our sense of control.
And I weep, and you weep, as did Mary and all Jesus’ beloved who remained to the end – hearts broken by a God who fails in the worst way. A God who suddenly appears no longer omnipotent, but frail – perhaps even fickle – while the powers of darkness rage, the sun is covered, the earth shakes, and death visits.
And we are in awe, like the centurion, looking into a story that is marked by tragedy and faith, terror and majesty, pathos and compassion.
We are today the people of Palm/Passion Sunday, and it is with this great collision that we begin Holy Week. We are meant to be broken open by this day. We are meant to gaze into the darkest places of our being and open the doors of our lives so all that is wicked is met. And, like Jesus, to throw ourselves entirely into the hands of a God who seems strangely absent and almost negligent – One who has forsaken us.
Stay there for as long as you can. Let this week re-make you. Let it remind you of all that you have suffered and all that you have borne with tears in this ephemeral thing we call life. And be naked – spiritually at least – as Jesus was before the world and before God.
There will be no conquering fear until we know it as intimately as we know our hopes. There will be no conquering evil until we understand its cold, cruel, and calculating madness. There will be no overcoming hatred until we have seen its power in our lives and communities with open eyes and rendered hearts.
And there will be no end to death until at last we have followed Jesus into it, with our own cross and all that struggles within us. To find rest in the void and let go of every last shred of ego, and let go completely of being itself until at last all that is left is God.
And what comes next is God’s, and God’s alone.