When I was in third grade, I had one of those classic rite-of-passage moments. The day started out simply enough. At school, my friend, Buffy, who normally sat right behind me, was out sick that day. On the way to lunch, another friend, Holly, lamented how much she missed having Buffy there. I agreed, but casually mentioned that I was getting more work done because Buffy was not distracting me by talking so much. The comment was a rare, blatantly honest comment about how, although I loved my friend Buffy, Buffy did tend to talk a little too much. That moment of rare, brutal honest cost me dearly. That night, Holly called to tell me how upset Buffy was that I said she talked too much. I was devastated and embarrassed. I could not believe Holly had betrayed my confidence and told Buffy what I said. Now I was forced to call Buffy and figure out how to meaningfully apologize. This was a tall order for a third grader.
What I remember most about that interaction is the presence of my mother. Before I got up the courage to call Buffy to apologize, I came to my mother weeping. I was weeping out of remorse, I was weeping out of embarrassment, and I was weeping because I felt like I had no legitimate excuse for my words. How could I keep Buffy as a friend with her knowing how I felt about her talking habits? My mother stood by my side, encouraging me to face my fears, assuring me that everything would eventually be okay.
As I look back at that day now as a parent, I can only imagine how my mother must have felt. She must have felt awful for me, knowing how painful removing one’s foot from one’s mouth can be. She must have known that this kind of grievance would take a long time to forgive, and that I would have to maintain a tone of repentance, without the assurance of forgiveness. She must have anticipated how difficult my apology would be and how vulnerable offering that apology would make me. But my mother must have also known that all of those experiences are a part of growing up and being in relationship with others. She could not navigate my mess for me. She could not take away my discomfort. She knew I just needed to go through the experience, and would be transformed in the process. I remember my mother being infinitely supportive; but years later, I imagine my mother must have felt impotent and helpless as I navigated the realities of growing up.
In some ways, I think that Holy Week leaves us with that same sense of impotence and helplessness. We would love nothing more than to finish our worship today with Jesus’ story on that blessed Palm Sunday. Everything is there. The prophecies are being fulfilled: Zechariah already foretold of how the Messiah would come triumphantly, but humbly, riding on a donkey.[i] Everyone is already singing those words from the Psalms, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” There is no mistaking that the pieces of the puzzle are all present – Jesus is the long awaited Messiah and the people finally get it as they lay down their blankets and celebrate their king. We should be able to say, “The end,” today and all go home, ready to celebrate again next week.
Unfortunately, we do not get off so easily. Like a mother who wants to shield her children, we want to shield Jesus and ourselves from the pain that will come this Holy Week. We want to skip the Passion Narrative – or at least save the narrative for Good Friday – delaying the inevitable. But our liturgy today does not let us avoid the uncomfortable remainder of the story. I have long been told that the reason we read the Palm liturgy along with the Passion Narrative is because so few church-goes actually attend Holy Week services. But I think there is more to today’s liturgy than cramming everything into one Sunday. I think we hear the Passion Narrative with the Palm liturgy because the Palm liturgy can only be understood in light of the Passion. If we try to claim victory today with our palms, we miss the work of the Messiah. We forget the rest of prophecy if we stop with the palms. The palms simply mark our acknowledgment of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. The Passion gives us the consequences of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah.
Using the parenting lens this year has helped me with my normal disappointment in Palm Sunday. Normally, Palm Sunday makes me feel like a failure. Here I am in one moment singing, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” joining the festival procession with my palms, and the next moment shouting “Crucify him!” This liturgy has always made me feel like a failure. But the parenting lens changes things for me. If I think of this day not as a failure on my part, but as the experience that Jesus must live through in order to free us from our sins, somehow I feel less impotent. Somehow I am better able to sit with Jesus today, knowing that I cannot change his journey, but also knowing that his painful journey will lead to greater things. Without the recognition of Jesus’ identity in the palms liturgy, and the shameful death of Jesus in the passion narrative, we cannot get through to the other side – to the Easter resurrection that awaits us.
So today, we take on the role of supportive parent. We sit in the kitchen, pretending to read a magazine, while intently listening to the painful journey of Jesus. If we are good parents, we let the drama unfold as the drama needs to unfold. But we also keep watch, waiting to be called into the fray to offer our love and support. We cannot control Jesus’ journey, and in the end, that is for the best – because the end of Jesus’ story is much better without our meddling ways anyway. Amen.
[i] George W. Stroup, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 152.