Twenty years later, I remember the opening scene. Jesus is playing with the children, palm branches are being waved all over the place as the little ones sing and dance while running down the aisles of theater up to the stage. It is that festive, moving, celebratory picture that is my impression of Palm Sunday. Every Easter season there was a great theatrical/musical production, called Malchus, presented at the civic theatre where we used to live. It was written by two gifted friends of mine and it was a huge hit with the community every year. The name, Malchus refers to the guy who was injured (and healed) in the fray that resulted when the authorities arrested Jesus.
The city of Jerusalem was filled with people for the Passover celebration which commemorated the sparing of the children of the Israeli families and their miraculous, safe departure from Egyptian captivity. Old Testament prophecies were being fulfilled right and left. Then Jesus who was at the peak of his popularity, came into town in what becomes a hero’s welcome, a victory parade. It doesn’t get any better. The self-righteous religious authorities threw their hands up in disgust, saying, “We’re lost. The whole world has gone after him.” There is a party atmosphere ramped up by Jesus’ arrival, the religious authority figures are in disarray, palm branches are waving, children are dancing, and the King of Kings is getting his due. I feel like playing the old Three Dog Night song, “Celebrate!”
However, really, it was the beginning of the end. It was the beginning of the end of the last week of Jesus’ life. Events turned very quickly from celebration to betrayal, a kangaroo court, agony, desertion, torture, and a slow, excruciating, humiliating death. Now I am thinking of the U2 song, “Until the End of the World.” In five days, the crowd that danced around him waving palm branches was traded in for the mob that called for his execution and the release of a known insurrectionist. There were probably some of the same people in both crowds.
So, as Jesus smiled and waved as he sat on the donkey riding down the street among his adoring fans, I wonder what he was thinking, knowing what was ahead. I would be thinking you bunch of SOB’s; you’ll be calling for my death in just five days.
People are fickle. Things are not always as they seem. Victories don’t last.
The festivities were fake because the crowd didn’t get it. They didn’t get who Jesus was or what he must endure. They didn’t get the depth of their depravity. They didn’t get the cosmic picture of this hinge point in human history. They were stupid and Jesus was a victim.
On the brighter side, this was the beginning of a few days of the most intensive discipleship teaching ever and, it is recorded for us.
Upon the completion of Jesus’ objective brought about by all of the previously mentioned evil deeds, it became clear, this was the end. It was the end of trying to appease an angry God. No more sacrifices, no more trying to be good enough, no more trying to read your Bible enough, no more trying to pray enough; no more trying to quit drinking, no more trying to stop punching up porn on the laptop, no more trying to be the ideal family man or woman, no more trying to be the good church member, no more trying to be the good Christian, no trying to tithe enough, no more trying to impress people, no more neurotic self improvement programs! Jesus said it, “It is finished!” The price is paid in full. The relationship is restored and it can’t possibly get better than it already is. This “end” is the beginning!
Okay, now I am ready for the Three Dog Night song again! “Celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music!”
Originally published November 7, 2010.