Palm Sunday, 2023
Today is always a whiplash sort of day. We gather in the parking lot for the liturgy of the palms and hear the story of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We process from there into the church where we sing, “All glory, laud, and honor.” The lyrics of that hymn reminding us that Jesus is the King of Israel, a royal son, the Blessed One.
And then, in the space of about five minutes, we become the crowd that turned on Jesus and shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” How, we wonder, is this possible? How can people who proclaim the goodness and greatness of this man suddenly and ferociously turn against him?
It's easy, I think, for us gathered here today to think we are just following a script or to think that we would never flip so quickly on someone. But just look around and you'll learn that's not true.
It happens in politics. Think about Mike Pence, VP under Donald Trump on January 5 and in danger of being hanged by a rabid mob on January 6. It happens in religion. There have been several influential Christians who have come out in support of lgbtq rights and other positions based in love and equality who have been attacked by certain segments of Christianity as being a heretic.
I think about Jewish people in Germany before the rise of fascism. They were accepted and treated as equals until Hitler and the Nazi's almost overnight turned the country against them.
The list goes on and on because it's easier than you might think to get swept up and away in the rabid passion of attacking a scapegoat. It's easier than you might think to turn on someone because they no longer live up to your expectations or defend your deeply held beliefs. One moment we are singing their praises, and the next moment we are casting them into the outer darkness for some perceived violation of a rather subjective moral code.
Today is a whiplash sort of day because we think the movement from praise and honor to rejection and abandonment can't really happen this quickly; but it can and it does. And it seems to me that it almost always happens when something or someone threatens the status quo or the existing power structure. Our bishop said he never received death threats until he began advocating for the creation of a reparations fund. We humans seem to have a talent for turning on those who threaten our deeply held beliefs, no matter how wrong they are. We would rather attack those who push for equality and justice than admit to our participation in systems of racism. We would rather attack those who push for regulation and safety than admit killing school children is a problem. We would rather blame anyone and anything else than take responsibility.
On this Palm Sunday when we are moved from adoring disciples to hateful opponent, let us always remember how easy it is to make that transition. On this day when we fall in line with a group's desire to punish a scapegoat, let us always remember that it is harder to stand up for what is right than to go along with the crowd. On this day, let us not blame a vengeful God for acting against humanity, but let us remember that this was the act of a vengeful humanity against a loving God.
Palm Sunday asks us on which side we stand – on the side of a system designed to punish and execute those who speak out against it, or on the side of God who calls us to dismantle unequal systems in favor of love. Palm Sunday is a day that continually asks us if we are on the side of power or if we're on the side of God.