This Sunday in Minnesota, Christians are going to congregate around their churches, maybe in the street–maybe in a public park across the street–with palm fronds. They’re going to start singing some weird, old school hymn, waving those palm fronds around (or maybe just holding them anxiously, since they’re Minnesotans) and walking around–processing. The priests and pastors will be in their regalia, white robes and strange colored scarves, and the acolytes, the choirs–wearing church clothes outside the church, singing church songs from a thousand years ago, re-enacting (badly, probably) an event that happened two thousand years ago in the Middle East.
With palms. In Minnesota.
Back up and think for a second, church people: it is going to be one bizarre sight to our Muslim neighbors–confusing to Buddhists and Hindus, perhaps threatening to our Jewish neighbors, and maybe just dumb for the atheists and agnostics peering outside.
Palm Sunday is awkward. It’s ridiculous. The whole world is watching, and it’s just weird.
Palm Sunday is the first service in the most important week of our year. And, it’s an emotional whirlwind, a bait-and-switch Sunday. We as the congregation play the role of the masses of Jerusalem, the people hungry for salvation, and the people hungry for blood.
In the span of an hour, we glorify our savior, begging him to lift us up from the powerlessness of our lives–and then when it becomes clear what this means, we turn on him, and we demand that he be killed.
Tradition requires that we meet outside for this Sunday. Not in the safety of the church, but exposed, for all the world to see, on this remembrance of one of the most deplorable moments in our story.
Palm Sunday doesn’t feel good, to stand outside your building, looking around to see who in your neighborhood is watching you. It doesn’t feel right, to do ‘churchy’ things in a public place–where the ancient rituals we take for granted are visible for anyone to judge.
We’re forced outside of our safe walls, and its not for a picnic or a blessing: it’s the part of our story where we praised a man as our king, and then killed him a week later.*
On this Sunday, we’re terribly exposed, and not in a way that makes us look like the heroes.
Why? Why do we do this to ourselves?
Well, I think you have only to look around at our current political climate to know why we should be warned about the fickleness of a crowd of downtrodden people. We don’t have to look far to see the way that a few fears can turn a crowd into a murderous bunch–and how it can happen to any of us.
We live out this story, we play these characters, so that we can remember how strong and how dangerous our power as a people can be.
We do it so that we can never be truly complacent about who we are as people of faith: to remember that we must always remember how vicious blind following can be.
And we do it on the steps of the church, in the yard, maybe in a city park, so that we can be exposed to all the prying eyes of the rest of the world. It’s incredibly awkward, stupid, and frightening, to Do Church this way. But we have to.
We have to do it, because this exposure holds us to account: our traditions demand that we do this so everyone can see, to remind us that the seeds of such destruction reside in all of us.
It is important for religions of power to remember how destructive they can become if they do not remember to diligently seek the truth. If we listen rightly, Palm Sunday is a very hard Sunday for those of us who walk in power and privilege.
None of us are too good for this part of our story.
We need Palm Sunday to keep us accountable, now more than ever, to the parts of us that succumb to fear, to the parts of us that say “Messiah!” only when it is convenient for us. We need Palm Sunday to make us look awkward to others, to keep us from thinking that what we do is ‘normal’, that being a Christian is ‘easy’ or ‘comfortable’, to remind us of how quickly we, too, might turn to destruction.
So, this Sunday, dear Christians, I hope you stand outside–where it is awkward, anxious-making and uncomfortable.
I hope together you shout “Hosanna!” and together you shout “Crucify!” and together you remember the power of a people whipped up into a frenzy.
I hope you remember collectively as a people how quickly we can be turned against others, how quickly we can sow destruction when we cried “Hosanna” a moment before. I hope you remember in pain how this story has been transformed into a way to hurt Jewish people.
I hope you embrace this opportunity for public remembrance that the Christian faith is far from innocent.
For all of us who might be willing to listen, in that garden of Gethsemane, Jesus yanks on our sleeping ears and says, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”
Palm Sunday is here to remind us that the time of trial is now. Go outside of your church and do something ridiculous, remind yourself that this is a weird, strange faith, that shows us the viciousness of power, and calls us to account. Feel awkward, outside the safe confines of your beautiful, quiet buildings.
Remember that we all have a vigil to keep against the viciousness of the mob–and that we are all only one step away from it. It is in all of us.
And keep awake. Pray that we all might be strong in the time of trial.
*I am very adamant that this is a part of the Christian story, that this is a WE moment. There is rhetoric out there that says that “The Jews” did this, but we should never forget, and never stop reminding ourselves, that this is a part of our CHRISTIAN story, and never an us vs. them tool. I also believe that churches have a duty to remind their people of this–to put their congregations in the role of the crowd. It was never ‘the Jews’ that cried “crucify!” It was us–the idiot masses–that turned on a man whose message threatened them. Or, ironically, the idiot masses who did whatever the man with most recent power grab told them to do. We as leaders have a duty to make our congregations remember.
This post is a continuation of an idea from three years ago, posted here.