The Liturgy of the Palms

The Liturgy of the Word


Today we begin a week closely following Jesus’ welcome as king into the city of Jerusalem; the last meetings with his disciples; his giving final instructions and teachings; the betrayals and abandonment; tears, false accusations, humiliation, agony, execution and burial. Over the next six days we will lift up as sacred time these details of Holy Week. But today’s service compresses all of this to contain the end of Jesus’ human ministry.

Jesus had been loved, honored, sought after, and followed. Peter, James and John at least, and maybe more of his disciples, were beginning to understand who he was. Why could Jesus not just stay under the radar of the powerful occupying Roman government; just stay out of sight from the paranoid Temple leadership?

Aren’t we all familiar with the fine art of flying under the radar? You know, keeping ourselves quiet enough that we can go unnoticed by people we would rather that they NOT notice us. I definitely remember our two daughters sharpening those skills as little girls, to stay out of trouble. Well, actually, it was more about doing things that would get them IN trouble, but doing it quietly enough that they wouldn’t get caught. Our older daughter Candace had learned that she could pick on her little sister Laurie, getting her so angry that she would start yelling. When I heard the angry yelling, I would tell Laurie to stop acting so badly toward her sister – “Act like a lady.” “But, dad.” “Just stop it!” Candace mastered how to fly under the radar.

We all know how to lay low when we need to.

When we look ahead of us and see a Highway Patrol car in the slow lane of traffic – we slow down even if we are already going below the speed limit.

When there is a need for somebody in a group to volunteer for a job that needs doing – we look really busy and avoid any eye contact with the rest of the group.

I am sure Jesus knew everything he needed to know about human nature to avoid the outcome of this Holy Week journey in Jerusalem. But that is not what he chose to do. The Christian author Joan Chittister explains it this way, “These final days of Holy Week confirm there are some things worth living for, even if we find ourselves having to die for them as well.”

Our family; principles that give our life meaning; defending somebody being wronged who cannot defend themselves – What is it that motivates your life, that is worth living for, that is so important to you that you would give your life to protect it?

Jesus had reached the point in his work on earth that he knew the stand he needed to take, and it was for a reason so great that it made any hardship worth it. He had come to Jerusalem as the nation was getting ready to celebrate the Passover. That celebration marks the night when the slaves of Egypt were given the means to escape their captivity under Pharaoh, and to begin a new life. Jesus had put every detail in place for his own Passover to his own new life; now it had to play out. And he did this in order to provide you and me with our own Passover. We Christians are in a process of passing from the end of one kind of life centered on things, and values, and attitudes of this world – to the living of a new kind of life centered on the reign of God – both now, and for ever.

Jesus taught that life as we know it is not the reason we were born. THIS life is not the ultimate purpose of our existence. This is a stop-over on the way to the new way of thinking and living. Getting there takes commitment, and willingness to do whatever is necessary to take it on.

Jesus took up his cross in order to move into HIS new life, enabling his Spirit to be set loose to work through each of us. He took up his cross so that we could see the importance of taking up our own crosses in life; because those crosses need to be claimed and owned by us to model and spread God’s reign into families who desperately need God present in their home; neighborhoods that need God present in them; a nation, and a world that desperately need God to reign there. There are the large wooden kinds of crosses, like the ones that Syrian and Palestinian Christians will be carrying in the streets today; but there are small palm crosses too; like sharing our time or money when we barely have enough; or resolving an argument not to win, but to resolve the argument.

Jesus knew that for him to fully live out the message he was sent to deliver, he had to step up, in full view, above the radar, and be ready to die because the message was so important for us to hear and to make our own.

Prayer from St. Bonaventura (1217-1274)

“O Lord, holy Father, show us what kind of man it is who is hanging for our sakes on the cross, whose suffering causes the rocks themselves to crack and crumble with compassion, whose death brings the dead back to life. Let my heart crack and crumble at the sight of him. Let my soul break apart with compassion for his suffering. Let it be shattered with grief at my sins for which he dies. And finally let it be softened with devoted love for him.”