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I have experienced far more angst around preparing for Palm Sunday worship services as a pastor than I ever thought I would. When I was a child, Palm Sunday was the day I got to wave a leafy green palm and process around the sanctuary. It was a day for singing exuberant songs. Palm Sunday was triumphant, which was a nice change after the far more penitential season of the rest of lent.
When I went to seminary, I first encountered the debate about whether or not Palm Sunday should remain exuberant from start to finish, or if the service should begin joyfully and end more reflectively as we considered the Holy Week to come. Palm vs. Passion Sunday was a new question for me, and I didn’t understand it. Every year my family attended a Maundy Thursday service during Holy Week, and I didn’t see the need for springing ahead to the cross a few days early.
But the reality is, mid-week services are hard for people to attend. For those who work or have children involved in extracurricular activities, Thursday and Friday services may be impossible, or at the very least not ideal.
If people do not attend those mid-week services and skip from exuberant Palm Sunday to exuberant Easter, have they missed out on something? Has something been lost if we do not experience the silence of Holy Saturday between death and resurrection?
And, so we try to cram both together – celebration and lament, praise and mourning, palm branches and the cross – so that in our journey to the tomb we experience all that we can along the way.
I used to think this was silly. It was simply a concession to the culture. If people weren’t going to show up to Holy Week services, we would find a way to bring Holy Week services to them where they are. And, I bristled at it.
But, this year I’m wondering if maybe there’s something deeper going on here than I first realized. Perhaps, the impulse to hold the two together – praise and passion – comes from the realization that while we are crying, “Hosanna!” we are still not yet able to cry out with the more victorious word we cry out on Easter (think about the famous Leonard Cohen song, re-made for the movie Shrek).
We cry out in praise, but it is a broken kind of praise that is still waiting for the full redemption of our lives and this world. It is a cold and broken Hosanna! as Anna Marion Howell puts it. It is a hosanna that is not cried out from victory, but out of the deepest needs and longings of our heart. Perhaps instinctively we know that the word “Hosanna!” actually means “Save us!”
We know that we live in that tension between the kingdom that has already come and the kingdom that is not yet here.
We celebrate, but something within us won’t allow us to celebrate in fullness.
Because, although we are heading there, we are not there yet.
Although the crowd cheered for Jesus as King, they abandoned him when it looked like he had been defeated.
Even though the crowd covered the path with palm branches and their cloaks, Jesus chose to ride in on a donkey, rather than a steed.
Although the crowds shouted, “Hosanna!” they would soon cry out, “Crucify him!”
The celebration of Palm Sunday is restrained, even if we don’t want it to be, because we know what is yet to come.
We cry out “Hosanna!” in praise, but deep within we also cry out, “Save us, Jesus!”
Holding the two together is an act of offering our whole selves to God – not just the celebration, and not just the pain, but somehow both of them together.
Even so, Jesus, come. Even when we fail to recognize you for who you are, come. And, even if we are so broken that we are unable to cry out with shouts of praise, may the stones cry out in praise to you.