Is there a more conflicted day in the church year than Palm Sunday? My memories of these worship services growing up don’t tend to attend to this complexity. I remember palm branches and singing ‘Hosanna’ guitar choruses and that’s about it.
But as I reflect on this day now, I see it as a day of getting it, losing it and realising we never had it.
Palm Sunday cannot be a simple celebration of Jesus as Lord, or more accurately, our recognition of Jesus as Lord. Because we know what comes next in the story. This crowd that welcomes Jesus as the Messiah is the same crowd that Jesus somehow lets down with his refusal to lead them to the kind of freedom/victory they had imagined, and then they complete their betrayal with their cries of ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ before Pilate.
No, Palm Sunday is more nuanced and rich than we have perhaps allowed it to be. It is an acknowledgement of Jesus’ lordship, but not in the way we imagined, or not even in the way we currently conceive. It might be that Palm Sunday gives us permission to greet Jesus whose lordship is still beyond us, who still refuses to fill the part in the drama we have scripted for him. In welcoming this Jesus we acknowledge that we have got it right in calling him Messiah, but that we have undoubtedly got it wrong if we think we know precisely what his salvation will look like.
On Palm Sunday we need space to welcome Jesus as Messiah. We also need space to confess that we have been praying and longing for the wrong kind of Saviour. We need room to own up to the fact that we are changeable and fickle, that we can be shallow, thoughtless and vindictive, that when we are hurt and disappointed we can do terrible things.
Yet the glory of Palm Sunday is that Jesus knows this about us and weeps with compassion over this as he longs to gather us in and protect us – probably from ourselves. Jesus knows this about us and still receives our welcome – even though he knows it is merely the prequel to our vitriol and violence. In the light of Jesus’ forgiveness towards his accusers and killers – we realise that though we too have found ourselves on the wrong side of this drama; we have it in us to be treacherous, and yet we are loved.
Palm Sunday is a deep and rich moment in the church year. It gives room for beautiful yet broken humanity; the ‘getting it, losing it, never really had it, but loved all the same’ people. Us, in short.