Palm Sunday is also something of a bait and switch on the part of worship planners. Right after the kids march around and have gotten us feeling all warm and comfortable, we send them off to Sunday School. Then just when we have you ready to keep waving your palm branches, we’ll remind you that the people who first waved these branches for Jesus did not do it for very long. And then we will tell you the rest of the story: the events of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial before Pilate and his crucifixion.
These events of that last week in the life of Jesus are often referred to as “The Passion of Christ.” And so it is also Passion Sunday. Usually we think of one’s passion as being what you really want to do in your life, what gives you the most energy… what gives you a reason or purpose for living. In the language into which the Bible was first translated, Latin, the word used for this time in the life of Jesus is passionem which means "suffering, enduring." When we put those two meanings together, we come up with the meaning or purpose of Jesus’ life was to suffer or endure.
I don’t think that is the only thing that the life of Jesus means, but I do believe you cannot fully grasp anything else about Jesus, certainly not the resurrection, without an awareness his passion. On Palm Sunday we celebrate Jesus as a liberator a king a savior. On the flipside, on Passion Sunday we recognize that the way Jesus liberates and leads us is very different than palm-waving people expect. Jesus saves because he is willing to endure anything, to suffer anything. This suffering of Jesus has meaning; it is not without purpose, it is redemptive.
In college after a great tragedy in my life, I memorized a paragraph from a German theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer spent most of WWII in prison and was executed just weeks before its end. Bonhoeffer had a lot of credibility among young, struggling, disenchanted, college students in 1976. In a letter to a friend he wrote from prison:
Man’s religiosity makes him look in distress to the power of God in the world; God is the God of Power. The Bible directs man to God’s powerlessness and suffering. Only the suffering God can help.
On Palm/Passion Sunday we recognize that the power Christ brings to our lives is not in his measuring up to our Hosanna’s. The credibility, the “power” Jesus has in our lives is his willingness to enter our lives fully, to embrace the tragedies, even the suffering of our lives. On Palm Sunday we welcome Jesus and invite him to let the good times roll. On Passion Sunday Jesus shows us he will be awaiting us when challenging times do not let up.
Keep the Faith,