Making Sense of a Moment
Movie trailers are notorious for either giving away too much of the movie or leading you to a completely different perception of the film. As an avid movie goer (at least pre-pandemic), I would get frustrated when the film turned out to be different from my expectations based on the trailer. While I’m not one to go online to rant and rave about my unmet expectations, I confess that even stating this frustration out loud does sound a bit petty. This is just a reminder to me about how powerful expectations can be in our life. What do we do with a moment, or an event, in which our expectations aren’t met? When the stakes/investment in an experience are higher than the cost of a movie ticket, how do we make sense of that moment of disappointment, confusion or frustration? Can we balance these feelings with a willingness to look beyond our own expectations to see other possibilities? Even in our disappointment of unmet expectations there is usually something new to learn.
The Triumphal Entry
In most renderings of Scripture, the heading for the Palm Sunday story is some version of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. This phrase has always struck me as an odd turn of phrase. It is true that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, as told in all four Gospels, does reflect the prophetic image of how the Messiah would enter Jerusalem. Even though we know that Jesus’ messianic purpose didn’t fulfill what people expected, the fact that we know otherwise sometimes leads us to skip over the obvious tension that many in the crowd would experience as the week went on. I suspect that there were many in that Palm Sunday crowd, shouting messianic acclamations, that by Friday were in the crowd shouting for Jesus’ crucifixion. How could this be? Simply put, this is a prime example of what happens when the stakes are high, and reality doesn’t match the hype and people’s expectations.
Adjusting Our Expectations
Coming to terms with what truly makes Palm Sunday triumphant begins with adjusting our expectations and understanding of the whole week leading up to Easter. While this could be the subject of a whole year’s worth of graduate level theology, I’ll look at one of the thorniest aspects of the week. For centuries, the belief and understanding around Jesus’ passion had to do with our sin. Humanity is so awful, and God was so angry, that an innocent man (even God’s own son) had to die because of it. This is an image of Jesus that harkens to the notion of blood sacrifice and it leads us to believe that Palm Sunday is about triumph because blood was spilled (and it wasn’t ours). This is grossly over simplistic, but it serves a purpose for comparison. This view of Jesus’ passion contrasts with Jesus’ own words: “greater love has no one than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus’ work is all about living out and bearing witness to the life-giving power of self-giving love. This work is the gateway to understanding and building a community for the benefit of all creation. Resurrection shows God’s work in bringing new life through the simple, but powerful act of love. Jesus’ passion serves as a reminder to us of how we get in our own way of living and loving. It is an invitation to us to let go of, to die to, the things in our life and spirit that remain as obstacles to reflecting Christ’s love. One way to look at the Triumph of Palm Sunday is to understand it as an open door than enables each of us to more fully embody God’s gift of love for the world. You are invited to join us this Sunday and throughout Holy Week as we celebrate this promise together.