RCL Year A, Palm Sunday
It’s a confusing day. I wonder how you would explain what we’re doing today to someone who’d never been to church, who didn’t know the story we’ve just told. What is it we’re doing here? Why did we start outside? Why were we handed palm branches trimmed only yesterday off our palm tree during the work day, and told to wave them around? Why did we act like it was a festival, only to come inside and hear a really long dramatic reading of the terrifically sad story of the Passion? Why are we all over the place in terms of the emotions we’re arousing – glad, sad, most of all maybe a kind of awkwardness and embarrassment, if you were really going to be truthful? And why is this such a small group of people going through this today anyway? Does anyone else in the world know what we’re doing, and if they did, would they at all understand?
It’s a long tradition, the Palm Sunday procession. Some churches go all around their church building on the inside. Some go all around outside. Some go out into the neighborhood and walk all around. Talk about confusing the neighbors. It’s a parade – with no music except for that one song, not even sung very well. It’s a parade, but the only people dressed up are those 3-4 people in robes. It’s a party, but there’s no food. What is this? Who is this? what are they doing?
That’s the reaction Jesus and his followers got too, if it’s any consolation. There were people that were all excited at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, people who threw their cloaks and tree branches on the road and shouted Hosanna! as he came in on the donkey. A very large crowd of people, says Matthew. But then there were a lot of other people, probably more people, people in the city standing there watching this with confusion on their faces. Who is this? they wanted to know. What the heck is going on?
Well, as one commentator noted, that’s the question of the day. Who is this? is this the future king of Israel, coming in to kick out the Romans? Is this someone of great power and might? It doesn’t seem like it, once the story continues further on. Is this a random itinerant preacher from the country with a Messiah complex? Maybe, but maybe not. The only thing that’s clear is that this is someone who, when they go to put him on trial and wait for him to tell them who he is, refuses to speak, refuses to clear up all their questions. Pilate can’t figure him out, and neither, really, can anyone else. His best friends deny they know him. His people clamor for his blood. Even the others being crucified with him use their last dying breaths to make fun of him.
There are a few answers given. The adoring crowds tell the confused city people, this is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee. The soldiers and the High Priest call him the Messiah, but they don’t mean it in a good way. Pilate thinks he’s trying to be king of the Jews. The Pharisees say he’s an imposter. And the centurion and a few others watching him die say he’s God’s Son. Jesus’ answer to most of these is, You have said so. But he doesn’t offer any other answer himself.
So the question just hangs out there, waiting to be answered. Who is this? What answer do you live with? My personal friend and companion. The judge who watches everything I do. My model and guide for how to live. An enigma, a mystery I can’t connect with. A stumbling block. An all-powerful savior when I can’t save myself.
You may or may not be used to asking yourself who Jesus is. You might have words ready to say who you experience Jesus to be, and you might never have thought about it consciously. But that’s the question, today. That’s the question for this week, as we go through the whole story piece by piece, and wind up with something incredible on Easter Day. This week, today, I invite you to consider it. Who is this? what are we doing here? And now what do we do?