Yesterday we celebrated Palm Sunday. Is there a more ambivalent day on the Christian calendar? “Hosanna!” shouted the people lining the streets of Jerusalem. Literally, “Save us!” Save us, they meant, from the Roman oppressor.
Jesus did come to save them, of course, but not from the Romans. Over the next few days, the crowd would come to realize that Jesus wasn’t on board with their agenda. By Friday the very people who shouted “Hosanna!” were shouting “Crucify him!”
So it has always made me a little uneasy to commemorate the shouting and the palm-waving on Palm Sunday. Does praise count as praise when the people are that confused and, as it turns out, that bloodthirsty?
We have baptized all our children on Palm Sunday. The first was more or less accidental; the Sunday that was convenient and available happened to be Palm Sunday. We held our boy in his long white gown and the children came down the aisle with their palm branches and the big organ rumbled and we sang,
All glory, laud, and honor
To Thee, Redeemer King
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.
Immediately we understood that Palm Sunday, traditionally associated with the faith and praise of children, was the perfect day to recognize and celebrate a child’s place in the Covenant. So we baptized our other five children on Palm Sundays too.
We came to think of Palm Sunday as our family holiday and were a little sad whenever the day came around and we didn’t have anybody to baptize. It may be my imagination or selective memory, but Palm Sunday seems always to be beautiful–sunny and bright after the long, gray nastiness of a Nashville winter.
Yet Palm Sunday has still troubled me. What, exactly, are we celebrating?
My friend and pastor Russ Ramsey preached yesterday. He helped me see that we celebrate on Palm Sunday the same thing we celebrate any time we baptize a baby. He summed it up in a sentence: “Jesus is always doing more than you think.” We expect Jesus to deliver us from Romans or fears or insecurities or money troubles or addictions or heartache or loneliness. But Jesus came to deliver you from troubles that go much deeper than any of those. “I am doing a new thing here,” he is always saying. “You have no idea.”
On that first Palm Sunday there wasn’t a soul in Jerusalem who understood what Jesus was up to. As the scripture points out, even “his disciples did not understand these things at first.” They were as ignorant of his purposes as a little baby at the baptismal font. When it comes to that, if I’m any less ignorant myself, it’s through no merit or wisdom of my own, but only by God’s grace. Yet Jesus did what he came to do. He continues to do what he means to do, requiring neither our permission or our full understanding.
I don’t wish to suggest that our will and our understanding don’t figure into the equation. I do wish to suggest, however that this business of sin and redemption is full of mysteries, and our grasp of things isn’t as important in the end as our willingness to believe God even as we inhabit the mystery. And I’m thankful for a day to commemorate Jesus’ unflagging determination to rescue people who had no idea how badly they needed to be rescued. Hosanna! He is always doing more than we think.
Russ Ramsey has put together a series of daily readings he calls “Easter Week in Real Time.” They walk the reader day-by-day through Holy Week, showing from the Gospels what was happening each day between Palm Sunday and Easter. You can find “Easter Week in Real Time” here at The Rabbit Room. I’ll be reading them this week, and I commend them to you.
Thanks, Jonathan. I made some comments in the RR, but I’ve noticed my objections tend to get ignored over there. Jesus is always doing more than we think, and in these hearts that are more rebellious than we want to admit.
So true. Especially that last paragraph. The Means of Grace are mysteries, indeed. Far beyond what we can comprehend. Hosanna!
Also, I posted this over in the RR in response to J. Gray’s one on love. Reposting here because I really, really like it.
My Song Is Love Unknown (text by Samuel Crossman, c.1624-1683)
My song is love unknown, my Savior’s love to me,
Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.
Oh, who am I that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh and die?
He came from His blest throne salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none the longed-for Christ would know.
But oh, my friend, my friend indeed, who at my need His life did spend.
Sometimes they strew His way and His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day Hosannas to their King.
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath, and for His death they thirst and cry.
Why, what hath my Lord done? What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run, He gave the blind their sight.
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these themselves displease and ‘gainst Him rise.
They rise and needs will have my dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save, The Prince of Life they slay
Yet cheerful He to suff’ring goes, that He His foes from thence might free.
In life no house, no home, my Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb cut what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heav’n was His home, but mine the tomb wherein He lay.
Here might I stay and sing, no story so divine!
Never was love, dear King, never was grief like Thine.
This is my friend, in whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend!
“We came to think of Palm Sunday as our family holiday and were a little sad whenever the day came around and we didn’t have anybody to baptize”
You make chuckle.
And what a great post.
We are not any different than those frond-waving worshipers. We are tempted to believe that God has betrayed us if he doesn’t deliver us in short order from the unpleasant things pressing in on us. We are concerned with the daily grind, longing for the fleshpots of Egypt, demanding leeks and onions. And we so often missing the fact that God is in our midst….
God is with us.
We don’t even need to be able to see the promised land. We only need to believe that he can see it, and to keep looking at him in wonder and amazement, because who could expect the God of Glory to come down and walk with us.