lenten journal: palmdemic sunday


Palm Sunday has come and gone without a parade.

Here in Guilford we have three churches on the Green: St. George Catholic, Christ Episcopal, and ours–First Church, since in 1643 you had to have a Congregational Church with a settled pastor to constitute as a town in New England.

For the Palm Sundays we have been in town, all three congregations gather on the Green together to bless the palms and then we recess to our respective houses of worship to continue. The only folks on the Green today were people walking themselves or their dogs. Ginger and Jake set out palm fronds and self-contained Communion cups in our Memorial Garden for people to pick up (coming to the garden alone, of course) and use as they watched out online worship. I noticed that St. George had some sort of drive through set up. Christ Church was live streaming.

Palmdemic Sunday is a new experience for all of us.

For me, Judas and Peter are the main characters in Holy Week, alongside of Jesus. Judas get the bad rap because of the way the gospels are written. None of the gospel writers can help themselves. From the start, any time Judas shows up they describe him as, “The one who betrayed Jesus.”

It seems to me that Judas’ image of what the Messiah would do was that of one who would bring the Roman house down. He was the New Testament version of Malcolm X, looking to Jesus to change things by any means necessary. He grew weary of waiting for Jesus to make his move, so he pressed the point. Perhaps the kiss in the Gethsemane was less a betrayal than a misguided challenge.

On the other hand, Peter flat out lied. Three times, as he stood in the courtyard outside the place where Jesus as being interrogated, he lied about being with Jesus. The last time, he swore violently as he lied. Then the rooster crowed and Peter burst into tears.

Judas didn’t lie, but when he realized what he had done he couldn’t bring himself to risk forgiveness. Peter lied, yet somehow managed to wait around long enough to be surprised by both forgiveness and breakfast on the beach.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

When I think about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, it strikes me that the crowd seems to have made the same assumption Judas did. Some scholars imagine that across town the Romans were staging a military parade and Jesus’ entry was a paradoxical answer to it. I have no doubt that whatever Jesus did was more subversive than we understand, but I am not sure the people waving palms understood the implications of their–or Jesus’–actions. Like Judas, I think they thought he was coming into town to kick ass and take names. Things were going to change. The Romans was finally going to get what was coming to them.

Jesus, however, was riding into town to die. To be executed, in fact. To be publicly humiliated. Made an example of. Jesus rode into town to incarnate what he had been preaching all along. The crowd didn’t get it. By the end of the week, most of them were willing to settle for Barabbas. If Jesus wasn’t going to fix things, then let him die.

Even in a “normal” year, I am torn by Palm Sunday. I feel uncomfortable as we stand and wave our palms because I am not sure we understand who we are identifying with. To be Palm Sunday Christians, it seems to me, is to wave our branches and cry, “Save us, tell us it will be alright. Make things better.”

That is not how this is going to go down.

Neither the gospel not the story of our lives is a fairy tale. We are not headed to a happy ending. Easter does not take away the pain. This year on Palmdemic Sunday, in a way we have never been able to in our lives, we have a chance to grasp a hint of what the disciples felt as they self-isolated in the Upper Room: we don’t know what will happen.

Trump said one true thing this week: “There is going to be a lot of death.”

Easter Sunday was never the public event that Palm Sunday was. The big event played to a much smaller crowd. No palms. No parade. Just Mary in the garden, alone. Then some of the others. Even when the news had spread among those who knew Jesus, they still self-isolated in fear. No one was out in the street shouting, “Christ is risen.” Even after the Resurrection, it took some time to get over the fact that Jesus didn’t turn out to be who they hoped he would be. He was alive, yes, but the Romans were still stepping on their necks.

We will live through this week of death and Easter will come and usher in another week of death. Christ will be risen and people we know and do not know will die by the thousands, maybe even tens of thousands. The Resurrection doesn’t change that. Before we rush to say that everything is going to be better, let’s just stay here and tell the truth.

For a week, at least.



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