The Liturgy of the Palms
The Liturgy of the Word
[The numerous readings this Sunday carry us from Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem until His brutal death on the cross. The Good Friday readings afford a more concentrated look at Jesus' passion and crucifixion. Nevertheless, fewer people attend Good Friday services than Palm Sunday. Thus, this Sunday's service affords the best opportunity for the majority of congregation to reflect upon the passion of Christ. The Apostle Paul said that: "I must preach Christ and Christ crucified."]
With so many scriptural readings Palm Sunday presents a liturgical challenge. What is the overall theme of the Palm Sunday readings? Is it triumph or tragedy? At the very least we can say that there is a dichotomy between Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and the tragedy of the cross. This dichotomy not only presents us with a liturgical challenge. It calls into question the our basic understanding of the Christian faith. Today’s readings fly in the face of the triumphalism that is so prevalent in contemporary Protestant theology. The message being preached might be summarized by this:
Christ is risen from the dead. He has triumphed over all things so, therefore, we should be living victorious lives – lives without poverty or sickness of any kind. By faith in Him we can conquer all obstacles and never have any lack. In other words, live your “best life now!”
This message rings hollow when the whole of the New Testament is considered. First we would have to ignore the entirety of Holy Week readings which include Jesus’ struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane, for example. As for this life being one lived in triumph we need to recall the writings of the Apostle Paul:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. (Romans 8:18-19)
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)
How, then, should we interpret the events of Holy Week? How do we the reconcile the triumphant entry and the moment on the cross when Jesus cries out:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:34)
God the Father had to forsake His Son because Jesus bore all our sins upon Himself while on the cross. Sin cuts us off from God. The deeper message of the Christian Faith is easily lost if we are not careful. We must be cut off from sin if we are to triumph over it.
As Christians we are to triumph over sin. We cannot do not that on our own. We can only identify with Jesus’ triumph on the cross. His victory is our victory. In the moment of Jesus’ apparent defeat sin was defeated. Sin was defeated because Jesus paid the price for sin in that moment. The power of sin in our lives was also defeated. Are we living in His victory over sin? We are if we are living in Him. We are living in Him only when we are no longer living to ourselves.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
Struggling with sin leads to defeat. Victory over sin comes through dying to oneself and resurrection in Christ Jesus.
The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty? (Isaiah 50:7-9a)