Monday, April 2, 2012

First Palm Sunday

Yesterday was my first Palm Sunday with real palms.  I didn't quite know what to do with my little piece of palm, but nobody seemed to mind.  That wasn't the truly different part, however.

The really different part was how the Triumphal Entry passage was approached.

Usually, in Fundamentalism, Palm Sunday was a time to talk about the treacherous people of Israel at the time of Christ.  Oh sure, they may have waved their palms and welcomed Christ into Jerusalem, but they didn't really mean it.  Why, just the next week they were yelling to crucify Him.  How fickle those sinners were! Usually, this was accompanied by some sort of guilt trip about how each of us sitting in the pew would have done the same thing given the chance, and we all humbly and maybe sincerely believed that and felt guilty some more.  I don't remember ever spending much time on the beauty and glory of Christ that engendered such an outspoken response from His people.

Yesterday though, it was approached partly from a historical context - the "king" (Caesar) didn't like anybody threatening his authority, and so anybody who did so was eliminated - in this case, the Jewish religious leaders did it for him.

I sat and thought about that for a while.

Ok, the religious leaders did Caesar's dirty work.  Why is that?  They weren't exactly happy about being under Roman rule.  However, under Roman rule, there was no dissent tolerated.  You didn't make a scene, you didn't riot, and you certainly didn't openly proclaim someone else as king. (See Acts 19 for another example.)  You did that, and you had a phalanx of Roman soldiers on your doorstep and your little party was over in a very messy way.

And let's face it, the Romans probably didn't care who started it either.  They would take out whomever was closest, and the Jewish leaders were probably on the "closest" list.  I mean, if those leaders couldn't keep their people under control, they weren't fit to be leaders and should be dispatched along with the rabble as an example, right?

Don't you think the religious leaders took that and ran with it to get rid of Christ?

And don't you think the people maybe went home on Palm Sunday night and had a bit of a panic attack?  I mean, what they had just done was treason. It was the culmination of seeing Christ's ministry, yes.  If they had not done it, the very rocks would have, yes.  But it was still rebellion against a very real and a very powerful enemy.  After the crowd disperses, the realization of just how vulnerable the individual is becomes strong.  And fear drives people to do interesting things.

So I can see the Pharisees whispering around to those people, fanning the flames of fear.  They themselves were afraid.  Afraid of what Caesar would do, afraid of losing their privileged position in society.

Clearly the crowd did mean it.  Christ was worthy of that praise.  But the reality of what they meant made it easy to turn quickly in fear and cry out for this man's crucifixion - better the Romans kill him than a whole lot of us, they reasoned.  It's not a story of guilt, it's a story of human nature. How fear is the opposite of God.

And it's interesting - on the one hand, here Fundamentalism pooh-poohs a clear expression of joy and worship as insincere and shameful.  Yet I remember numerous sermons berating a person for not being joyful and worshipful.  You can't win.  You can't win when you twist scripture.

Hosanna, it wasn't twisted this year.  Blessed is He who comes in the name of Jehovah.

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