Palm Sunday 2020
So, how’s your pandemic going? Are you tired of it yet? I’m sure you are. I was emailing with a Dad in our church community and he said weeks one and two were fine, but week three felt different. It’s starting to wear on the kids. There’s a tension in the air, you know? We can all feel it. It’s getting old. It feels unsure. It’s like the feeling of not knowing how the next week is going to go, or when this is going to end.
This isolation exile we’re in, I know all the moms and dads and grandparents and families and neighbors are all feeling the stress and fear of it, and doing what they can do adapt. So are health workers and first responders, not to mention restaurant workers, part time employees, and churches.
In the midst of it all I’ve noticed touching efforts made from all kinds of people to try and lift one another’s spirits. Like, have you seen these teacher parades? They’re happening all over. I’m not sure if they’re CDC compliant, but teachers are coordinating to parade in their cars through the neighborhoods near their schools so they can see their students, and so their students can see their teachers in person, if from a distance.
One such parade happened just over in Ashburn and an onlooker said, while all the online adaptations are great and valid, you “really can’t beat a face-to-face smile and wave from your teacher.”
Teachers remarked that while the kids were thrilled, the parents were a little emotional. It was a great rush of excitement and joy, but there was still this tension in the air of our exile. It’s that feeling of not knowing how the next week is going to go, or when this is going to end.
That made me wonder if that’s what it felt like in Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday, at the original Teacher Parade?
God’s chosen people, the Jews, they know what it’s like to be in exile. They spent the better part of the 5th century BC exiled in Babylon. Let’s hope our coronavirus exile doesn’t take that long, eh? While they were in exile, though, God didn’t leave them there. God sent prophets to bring them good news. One of them was named Zechariah and through him God sent those exiled people a promise of good news, that this would not last forever. No, there was a savior coming.
Zechariah told them to: Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Your king is coming to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey.” A king on a donkey? Sounds familiar…
That’s what the people thought of on that first Palm Sunday five centuries later when Jesus came to town. Maybe this is the One Zechariah talked about…
They had heard of him. He was a healer who was able to touch even the lepers and make them well. Teaching in the Temple he proved wise enough to debate religious leaders and win. Plenty of people started to wonder if he was the promised Messiah, this Teacher Parade was just further proof, because it fulfilled a prophecy.
You couldn’t help but feel the excitement. The streets were crowded, no social distancing orders were in effect. You could hardly see anything, but everyone wanted him to notice them, so they pulled palm branches from the trees outside their homes, and waved them to be noticed. And they shouted the words of scripture.
“Hosanna” which means “God save us!” “Hosanna” God save the King, the new Son of David, come to restore this place. “Hosanna in the Highest!”
When he came to a new section of the parade route, there was a rush, that kid is right, “you really can’t beat a face-to-face smile and wave from your teacher.” But when they saw him, even though they knew the donkey prophecy, it was weird that he wasn’t on a horse.
You would expect a conquering king to come on a warhorse, right? Instead he rode a donkey, a smelly peace-time beast of burden. What’s up with that? Is this really the Messiah? I mean, how is a donkey-riding teacher going to save us?
We get the impression that this first Palm Sunday Teacher Parade is joyful but also a little awkward. It’s a great rush of excitement and joy, but there’s a tension in the air. Is this the real Messiah, or not? What’s going on? Should we have hope, or not? It was the feeling of not knowing how the next week is going to go, or when this is going to end.
The truth is, these people, they have no idea what’s about to happen. They don’t know what lies ahead for the Teacher in this parade, or what it means for them. They don’t know on this first Palm Sunday just what kind of salvation their “God Save Us” Hosannas will bring on Good Friday. They don’t yet know that at the end of this parade comes a steady march toward the cross. They cheer for his entry now, but by the end of the week they’ll actually be cheering on his death. They have no idea that the week ahead is actually the hinge of all of human history. They don’t know that it’s actually the first Holy Week.
This week is going to be a weird week for you too. For us. This year’s Holy Week observance will be different from all the others in our lifetime, starting today. We aren’t together today to join the choir in the procession of all 12 verses of All Glory Laud and Honor. We don’t get to see the little kids wave palms enthusiastically, or at least wield them like lightsabers. You haven’t been able to spend the sermon trying folding your palm frond into the shape of a cross, or at least a lightsaber. No, this Palm Sunday is not like other Palm Sundays.
But maybe it’s more like the first Palm Sunday. Maybe this year will be more like the first Holy Week than any in our lifetime.
Think about it. That first crowd shouted “Hosanna Hosanna, Save us, Save us,” and, I’ve definitely said that prayer this week. That first crowd knew what it was to be waiting for an end to their exile, and so do we. We get to wave our palms and sing our praises just like them, but also just like them, it’s all happening with this tension in the air… The feeling of not knowing how the next week is going to go, or when this is going to end.
In that way, maybe we’re actually in the perfect mood to experience Palm Sunday and all of Holy Week anew, or even for the first time.
The main difference, of course, is while we don’t know what the week ahead holds for us in 2020. We have an advantage over that 1st century crowd. We know what lies ahead for Christ after the Palm Sunday Teacher Parade. The good news is that even though we don’t know what comes ahead for us, Jesus has gone before us.
This week, Holy Week, is designed even with pandemic people like us in mind. It’s laid out before us now, as a gift. It’s a week that starts with this parade and then slowly, deliberately, leads us to the cross. And then, even if he has to drag us, Christ will then lead us beyond the cross, to his Resurrection on Easter morning.
So hear the Good News, you with the sweaty palms and the troubled heart. The parade route of the next week has been prepared for you. It’s been set aside as a Holy Week to remind you of your salvation, and not yours alone, but the salvation of the whole world.
So, my friends, a blessed Palm Sunday to you. Now, let us walk this road in faith together. Our Teacher will walk it with us. And, at the end, the Risen Christ awaits us. Thanks be to God. Amen.