When I was a kid, this was always a busy week, clean-up week. There was planning for the big meal next Sunday – Easter. Would it be ham or lamb? Some years, I’d have a new suit – usually a couple sizes too big, so I could grow into it. My mother would be cleaning our home for company. There were eggs to dye and chocolate to look forward to, and lamb cake – pound cake shaped as a lamb.
For a lot of us, it can still be time for planning. But before we get too caught up in next Sunday, we need this Sunday. We need to remember.
Remember that the crowd that cheered Jesus also condemned him. Remember that the voices praising him, also called for his death. Remember that those who love him and promised loyalty also abandoned him, denied him and betrayed him.
And if you want to know who did that, just look at the palm branches in our hands. We are guilty.
While we may not want to admit it, Christ’s passion goes on today. Our betrayal of him continues in ways large and small.
How often do we praise God on Sunday…and damn him on Monday. How often do we shrug him off when things become too difficult or the rules too hard or the demands of the Christian life too taxing? How often do we treat love as just sentiment for greeting cards, and not a command for living?
Jesus continues to bleed and weep and cry out: “Why have you abandoned me?” He cries out today to us. Whatever you do to the least, he said, you do to me.
What do we do? We encounter Jesus on the MRT, step over him on the sidewalk, and go out of our way to avoid him when we feel like he might make demands on our time. At the office, we make jokes of someone, spread gossip about someone at the water cooler. We suck up to people who are more popular, or attractive, or influential at work – and barely give the unimportant person who answers the phone the time of day.
Whether we realize it or not, we see Jesus every day, read about him in the newspapers, hear about him in the news. He is everywhere where there is someone who is small, or neglected, or disrespected, or discarded. He is with the unwanted and unloved, the bullied and abused. Why have youabandoned me?
Do we hear him?
We find ways to justify our choices. But it can’t be denied. Whenever we choose death over life, sin over the gospel, popularity over integrity, indifference or disdain over love – in short, whenever we have turned away from Christ – we who claim to believe in him have, instead, betrayed him.
We have said, “Give us Barabbas.” We have said, in effect, “Crucify him.” And we have done it with palm branches in our hands and the echoes of “Hosanna” in the air.
We need this Sunday to remember that. And we need these branches as a reminder – and a challenge.
They remind us that we re called to be heralds of Christ – to celebrate him the way they did that day in Jerusalem. And these palms challenges us to keep crying “Hosanna,” to keep proclaiming the Good News – even when the world attempts us to do otherwise, even when it seems like it would be easier to go with the crowd and simply choose Barabbas.
These palms challenge us not to turn our back and walk away. They challenge us to not step over Christ or ignore him. And they challenge us not only to remember what we have done to him, but what he has done for us.
This is what this Holy Week is about.
Before we look ahead to next Sunday, Easter, and the big plans and a big meal, look back. And look within your heart… And look to these palms. Look at what we are called to do…and who we are called to be.