April 15, 2014

A World Out of Order


Things happen so fast on Palm Sunday. We have this crazy, happy moment of starting outside, and making a big parade into the church, carrying plant material that we never see at any other time of the year here in the northeastern United States. We do a group dramatic reading in the middle of the service. And by the time the service is over, all of the fun and celebration is gone, and we have already arrived at Good Friday.

Things happen so fast on Palm Sunday. There is a danger in that. The danger is that it will all pass by at such a high rate of speed that we won’t be able to grasp the theme of the story until it’s too late. The danger is that by just getting through our lines for one more year, we will miss the chance to think about what the lines really mean, the real substance of what they signify.

Palm Sunday, this curious moment in our annual cycle of life in which we place ourselves in the picture to remind us that what happened in Jerusalem two thousand years ago was just as much about us today as it was about them then.

Palm Sunday, this reminder of how quickly, how blindingly quickly, the victories of this world can become the most bitter reversals and the most absolute defeats.

Palm Sunday, this stark reminder of how profoundly disordered is the world that God came to save in the person of Jesus, how determined in our own righteousness we can be and how utterly wrong we most often are.

What sense you make out of the retelling of this story again and again every year comes down not to whether you believe in God, but to whether you believe that God still believes in us—or not.

Because the fact is that the world is still disordered, and violent, and cruel. The fact is that people still act out of blind rage and stupid anger. Nothing seems to have changed. The seekers after evidence, the ones who want proof, would look at what we offer today and wonder why it is we think the prince of peace made any difference.

But if God still believes in us, if God still holds out hope for us, then we do this every year as a way of reminding ourselves that the story is not just about a darker time long ago and far away. It is about our moment, it is about God coming to us again and again in love, it is about God offering us forgiveness even when we think we have no need of it exactly because in our complacency we are blind to our predicament.

Palm Sunday is the moment at which the story, our story, takes on flesh and shows God’s willingness to change us for the better not by judging us but by suffering for us. And it reminds us that despite our best intentions to the contrary, we still manage to cause God a great deal of suffering.

And yet the man in the middle of the disordered crowd is still willing to stand and endure it all—because something in you, something in all of us, God has decided is worth the cost.