Have you ever listened to a police scanner and felt like you were
eavesdropping on a foreign language? The verbal shorthand can be a complete
mystery to an outsider.
Christianity can be like that sometimes. Take Palm Sunday. To the
uninitiated it might sound like a Sunday devoted to tropical foliage.
I loved how the comic strip "Foxtrot" addressed the mystery of Palm Sunday
last year. The computer geek Jason Fox is dressed and ready to go to church.
He yells up the stairs to his parents, "Mom? Dad? Shouldn't we be leaving
for church? You don't want us to be late do you? The service starts in two
hours! Who knows how long it'll take to park?! I'll be waiting in the car,
Upstairs, the father turns to the mother and says, "He really thinks Palm
Sunday means free handheld computers?"
If you don't "get" Palm Sunday, you're in good company. This morning people
will be processing into church waving palms, and by the conclusion of the
service they will be exiting into the passion of the Christ. They will
scratch their heads and say, "I don't understand; what just happened here?"
I've always wondered what Jesus felt on that day we now call Palm Sunday. As
He rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, did He believe the people who praised
him, who called out "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of
the Lord"? Did Jesus cross His fingers and say, "Dear God, let it be so"?
Or, at the end of the week we call Holy, when the crowds had fled and He was
nailed to the cross, did Jesus say, "I don't get it. What happened? My God,
my God, why have you forsaken me?"
To answer this question means going into the darkest regions of the human
soul. Several years ago I stood before the open doors of the ovens at
Auschwitz. You can't help but hear the voices of the dead cry out, "My God,
my God, why have you forsaken me?" while the living look at the ashes and
say, "I don't get it. What happened?" But isn't that the question God asks
of us? Does God look at what we have done to each other - the violence, the
injustice and the unfaithfulness of our lives and weep, "My child, my child,
why have you forsaken me?"
Holy Week is the time when we acknowledge all the ways we have forsaken
Christ, each other and ourselves. We begin Palm Sunday with cries of Hosanna
and in 20 minutes each one of us is shouting "Crucify Him!" because that is
how we live out our faith everyday. I remember the jolt I felt as a teen on
a Palm Sunday when I joined the congregation in shouting out, "Crucify Him,
I thought God would strike me dead for saying such a thing. I realized then
how much my actions have struck out at God, how my deeds have continued the
crucifixion. I've never gotten over that moment. I'm not supposed to.
Neither are you.
Today Christians will wear palm-shaped crosses on their lapel. It's a symbol
not only of the cross of Christ but of the crosses we all bear. It may be a
cross that you have fashioned yourself or one that others have skillfully
made for you. I know now not to fear the way of the cross because I know
what lies ahead at the end of the journey: Easter.
There are those who refuse to walk the way of the cross. For them it is
always Palm Sunday. They are forever waving palms and pretending that
everything is OK. They never acknowledge pain or unpleasantness - their own
or anybody else's. Others live in a perpetual Holy Week as if every day was
Good Friday and nothing good will ever follow. And then there are those
people like the rest of us filled with fear and courage, love and hate,
sorrow and joy.
We step into Holy Week holding out this mixed baggage we call our lives, not
really knowing what will happen. But come Easter, we may be scratching our
heads and saying, "I don't get it. What happened?" when God takes all the
worst that life has to offer and transforms it into new life through the
power of the resurrection. What happened? God transformed the cross into new
life, a new way of being. The journey to transformation begins now.
(The Rev. Cynthia Taylor is pastor of Church of the Holy Comforter Episcopal
Church, which meets at Savannah Rapids Pavilion.)
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