Friday, April 7, 2017

Friday's Essay - Palm/Passion Sunday

Below is an essay that I sent to those on the Cove Presbyterian Church e-mailing list. You can hear a podcast of this message by going to the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

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Image result for palms and passion
Sunday is an interesting day on the church calendar. You see, it can be celebrated in two different ways. On one hand, it’s Palm Sunday, the day Christians remember Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. On the other hand, though, it can also be Passion Sunday, that Sunday before Easter when we focus on the crucifixion.

Now, in terms of mood, these two days seem to be polar extremes. I mean, when Jesus rode that donkey as folks waved palms and put on the road branches and cloaks, this marked a high point in his earthly ministry. While the crowds had been standing on the noncommital edge, now they’d gathered on the road into Jerusalem shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” According to Matthew’s gospel, “when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’” This was a time of incredible joy. And that’s why it shocking that within a week, Jesus would be betrayed, denied, arrested, tried, convicted, and nailed to a cross. And the crowd that called him “the Son of David,” they would be standing in Pilate’s court and shouting,“Let him be crucified!” Now, both these ideas are present on this day.

Image result for palms and passionAnd you know, I think that’s appropriate. I mean, it’s easy for us to separate them, not only the stories but their impact on our lives. We can focus on the triumphant Christ, the “king of Israel,” the one who will establish his kingdom on earth just like it is on heaven. And we can approach this Christ with all our hopes and dreams, and we can expect him to satisfy us by granting them all. And when it happens, we can be content, knowing that we’ve received what we wanted; but when it doesn’t, we can leave disappointed and irritated, because we didn’t get what we deserve. If it’s all palms and “hosannas,” that’s what we can expect.

Image result for passion sunday
Of course, we can also focus on the other extreme and see Jesus through the eyes of Mel Gibson. And we can concentrate on the pain, forgetting that in the Roman world, tens of thousands of people endured the same torture faced by Jesus, including the two who were crucified with him. In fact, we can focus so much on the pain that we lose sight that Jesus came to save not just endure, and the cross is the ultimate sign of victory, not defeat.

And I think that’s the reason we need to celebrate Palm/Passion Sunday, because both imagines are true, but without the other, each is incomplete. You see, the one who came as the mighty son of David was also the anguished lamb of God, the one who was hung on a cross to save the people who drove the nails. The triumphant one suffered, and the one who suffered was made triumphant. That’s what we have when we combine these ideas. And if we’re able to do that, we’ll realize that we have a savior who knows exactly how we feel on both our best and worst days.

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