It was Palm Sunday but because of a sore throat, 5-year-old Johnny stayed home from church with a sitter. When the family returned home, they were carrying several palm fronds. Johnny asked them what they were for.”People held them over Jesus’ head as he walked by,” his father told him. “Wouldn’t you know it,” Johnny fumed, “the one Sunday I don’t go and he shows up.”
Sometimes we do miss the big events.
There are four key Sundays during the year: Christmas, Easter, Palm Sunday, Pentecost. You usually don’t want to miss them.
Of all of them, I like Palm Sunday the least. It is a peculiar Sunday – triumphal yes, but we all know the tragedy to come, too soon. The crowd is shouting “Hosanna” today and “Crucify him” on Friday. We are supposed to enjoy the moment and we cannot help but peer ahead into the near future. All the disciples are present, but Judas has already made plans.
The mood of this service is mixed. Clover and I were talking about this very thing in the narthex before the processional. We begin with joy but the Hosanna’s are more ceremonial than felt. We end the liturgy on a hushed tone. We begin with Children waving palms. We end with the cross being borne from the sanctuary and planted in the front yard.
But maybe because it is so peculiar, Palm Sunday may be the most real in terms of connecting with our lives. For our lives are full of ambiguity, mixed tones, praise and curses.
Palm Sunday makes me aware of my own fickleness; the way I run towards a parade and scurry away from commitment… the way we move in rhythm when the flow is positive and how disjointed it all becomes when there is work to do, or suffering to carry, or disagreement.
Palm Sunday produces guilt – because our faithfulness is often hot and cold. We too get swept up and swept along until the next wave, or next fad, or the newest update; maybe we will get involved next week.
The narrative is well known in our lives: it was time when God was going to make it happen, when life was going to be good, when all that we had hoped for was going to come to fruition, our hard work was going to be rewarded – and God gets on a donkey, instead of a stead… our eyes were wide open in hope, but now we are blinking in amazement because things have gone so wrong.
And the fact is, that just like the first Palm Sunday, most people are too busy to notice Christ, too preoccupied to care, involved elsewhere. Most simply were not at that first Palm Sunday parade. If you read any of the texts carefully, you realize that this was hardly a St. Patrick’s Day event in 70 degree weather, or a 4th of July celebration with fireworks – it was more a rag tag bunch of folks who happened to be present at the moment Jesus climbed on a donkey.
And that is the thought that stays with me – how often I miss the important. How often I miss God. How often I don’t look for signs of the divine, or miss opportunities to follow. How often I miss the whole show. I am not there for my children or spouse. I walk by people in need, too preoccupied to really listen or even care.
Just 11 days ago, I was in Rome with the Forest Hill pilgrims. We were, in fact, in St. Peter’s Square. Vatican City was abuzz with activity – banks of television cameras lined the magnificent plaza, reporters were everywhere – people stood (thousands upon thousands) and waited in a light cold rain. It was about 5:00 when we finished touring the excavations under St. Peters, where allegedly the bones of St. Peter rest.
A priest told us that there was no way, the Conclave would select a Pope that evening. And so, despite the protestations of a few who wanted to stay to see the smoke come out of the chimney, the rest of us wanted to get dry and warm and go to dinner.
Two hours later, Pope Francis was elected and he stood on the balcony outside of the grand basilica and pronounced his blessing… and we missed it.
Deanne was watching the whole thing on CNN and she immediately emailed me: “How was it?” When I wrote back – “Well, we were at dinner,” she responded, “WHAT!?!?!?!?!”
We were hungry and cold. We were told it wouldn’t happen. But Pope Francesco got elected anyway – with our without us. With or without me… can you believe that?
Back in the day, in Jerusalem – when Jesus was coming down the hillside into the city – most people were preoccupied. Women were prepping for Passover which was only days away. Folks were moving towards the Temple to make their sacrifices, beggars were begging.
There was much to do and you didn’t have time to pay attention.
The owner of the colt had things to do, so he untied his donkey and gave it away to strangers.
The Pharisees were in the crowd but they missed the whole thing in another kind of way – too preoccupied by negative thoughts of why this procession should not be happening.
Back in the day, the Romans were everywhere – and the mood was one of tired indignation because of the oppression of the imperial forces. As always politics divide us from paying attention to what is going on.
Really, on that day in Jerusalem – there were more important things going on then Palm Sunday.
But Jesus entered anyway – with or with them, with our without us.
And in a way, I find that marvelously comforting, and frankly inspiring – that Christ comes anyway. At Christmas when only a few shepherds were paying attention – Christ came. At Easter, just a few went to bring spices to the tomb. At the Transfiguration only three disciples (and they were asleep for the most part) … on Palm Sunday – Christ comes into the ambiguity of it all, the mixed blessings of life – the triumphs and the chemo-therapies…. Christ is among us, going to the cross for you and for me – heading into the shadows – for you and for me, where all is mingled together.
Christ comes whether you are paying attention or not, whether you are even present or not; whether you agree with it or not: distracted and doubting – Christ comes. He comes anyway.
So we try our best and get on with life, and we stop when we can and smell the roses, and we get swept up in the next responsibility, and we cry and we laugh and we curse and we love, and we, at times are present at the most wonderful moments, like the birth of our children, or precious intimacies. But we, at times, miss everything of importance – we miss saying the right word, we miss being present when we needed to be. But Christ redeems it all, Jesus loves you “this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” and so the distractions and the missed opportunities really don’t matter
Into the busy-ness of it all, into the seasons of our lives, into the heart of the big city – Christ comes as servant, as host, as friend, as judge, as redeemer.
So my call to you this day – is to pay attention as best you can. Pray as often as you can. Try to be present with others, as you are able – do righteous acts often, love kindness, do justice, walk humbly – but if you miss the mark, don’t sweat it – Christ comes.
Be generous and give lots away. Feed the hungry – take a risk, appreciate beauty, go do something – but if you can’t, or you don’t – it’s okay – Christ comes.
Like little Johnny we miss lots of things but Jesus comes anyway.
But you and I are here at this moment and we are together and there is much to do to prepare for the Passover, for the end and the beginning – the alpha and the omega. This isn’t about me or you – it is about God, the God who comes, who enters it all for you.
Hallelujah, Hosanna in the Highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!