I still remember my first Palm Sunday at an Anglican church, at Christ Church Plano about twenty years ago. Having gone to Presbyterian and then Bible churches my whole life up to that point, Anglican liturgy was still new to me. I loved it but much of it was still a mystery to me.
But I knew enough to know that Palm Sunday would remember the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. So I was ready to celebrate that and to cheer on and acclaim Jesus. And I did just that at the beginning of the service. I even held on to my palm frond a bit too long. Hey, remember I was new to Anglicanism. Don’t judge.
But then, before I knew it, we were reading about his crucifixion. “Hey, can’t we celebrate Jesus instead of crucifying him today? This is Palm Sunday after all. Why the rush?” So I thought.
My memory of the disorienting service is fuzzy, but if it was like other Anglican churches, the congregation even called out, “Crucify Him!” during that Gospel reading. Hey speak for yourself! I thought Christians liked Jesus. I don’t want to crucify Him, not until Good Friday at least.
But I got the message even if I did not really want to just yet. Jesus did not ride into Jerusalem to be acclaimed, though he was for a day. He rode into Jerusalem to die — to die for us — to die for me. And sinful man, of which I am part, was eager to kill him when that day very soon came.
Having gotten that message, after receiving the body and the blood later in the service, as I began walking back to my seat, I was given something else that surprised this newbie Anglican – a small palm cross.
The message was brought home to me yet again in tangible form I could hold on to. I instinctively held the palm cross to my heart, and . . . well, it’s embarrassing to say just how emotional I became. I remember two kind people after the service asked if I was okay.
Thus I found out the hard way how jarring Palm Sunday is. And it should be jarring. No doubt some of the same people calling out “Hosanna” as Jesus entered Jerusalem on that Sunday were calling out “Crucify Him!” on Friday morning. So we who sing “All Glory, Laud and Honor” very soon call out “Crucify Him!” during the Palm Sunday liturgy.
I can still have difficulty handling it, to be honest. Oh, having done this twenty times, I’m usually fine for the whole service — that is until the very last verse of the closing hymn:
Ride on! Ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die…
Another discordant transition — ride on in majesty . . . ride on to die? Well, at that point, I blubber more than sing. Even that closing hymn, now a favorite of mine, is jarring.
Palm Sunday should be jarring. I even love it for that now even though I did not at first. Like Jerusalem we acclaim Jesus, but when he’s not the vending machine Messiah we are looking for, when he doesn’t immediately give us what we want, whether it be freedom from the Romans or prosperity or a perfect family or a perfect church or a perfect life or easy answers to all our questions, we then we’d rather have a better Messiah, thank you. “Away with Him!”
The liturgy of Palm Sunday is brutally honest. We may acclaim Jesus and make a big show of that, but our sinfulness sends Him to the cross and quickly. And if we are not calling out “Crucify Him!” and mocking Him with the mob, we are walking away from Him like most of the disciples. The liturgy is a reminder of how quickly Jerusalem turned on Jesus to crucify Him and how quickly we can turn on Him or just walk away.
So join me in being shaken out of our complacency, perhaps a pious self-righteous complacency, this Palm Sunday and Holy Week. I need that. And I need Jesus bravely to process into Jerusalem to die for my sin.
And you do, too.