There is no more confusing Christian observance than Palm Sunday. It has been a while since we have celebrated it in person (since 2019), but I’m sure you all remember. It’s the day when we typically process into the sanctuary with palm fronds, waving them in the air and shouting “Hosanna!” A lot of churches skip the procession and just wave their palm leaves from their pews. Nevertheless, Palm Sunday has a high energy feel to it. We are cheering Jesus on, calling after him “Save Us!” in recognition of his power and authority as the Son of God.
However, for those who don’t know the story very well and who haven’t attended a Maundy Thursday service or a Good Friday service, it might seem as if the Easter joy has begun and Palm Sunday is part of the build up toward the big party. But nothing in Christianity is what it looks like at first blush. There is always a twist under the surface that deepens the meaning even as it confuses it. Just as we shout “Hosanna” we are enacting a scene that will soon turn dark. As we play the role of the welcoming crowds we should remember that it is the same crowd who will later shout “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” The original Palm Sunday was full of electricity, but under the surface the crowds were anxious. They knew the religious and civil authorities were watching them cheer on Jesus; in fact, the crowds were taunting them just as much as they were cheering Jesus. They also knew that Jesus was a marked man, and that things were going to come to a head soon.
So why would we reenact something so anxious and unsettling? The answer is simple: because we know how it ends. We know that God’s love triumphs, even over situations that seem uncertain, impossible to resolve, or that end in ways that look like defeat. We can play our part in this drama, calling out “Hosanna” in the full knowledge that we are also facing uncertainty (all life is uncertain) but that God’s love never fails us. Today, we know uncertainty in a way that we didn’t in 2019. And uncertainty is still with us—the pandemic is not fully over, and the crisis of it has given way to war and inflation. Uncertainty will always be with us, but so will the promise of the Resurrection! Denying one blunts the power of the other. We can walk into a future with confidence even as our eyes are wide open, knowing that no difficulty we might face is beyond the healing power of God through Christ.