Today we’ve come full circle in Lent which began on Ash Wednesday. There is a beautiful hymn in our hymn book called, “Sunday’s Palms are Wednesday’s Ashes.” It sums up so well this day of contradictions. The palms that we wave as we sing our hosannas become that ashes that remind us of our human frailty.
“Sunday's palms are Wednesday's ashes
as another Lent begins;
thus we kneel before our Maker
in contrition for our sins.
We have marred baptismal pledges,
in rebellion gone astray;
now, returning, seek forgiveness;
grant us pardon, God, this day!” (Voices United #107)
It is like the Palm branches that turn so easily into crosses. Today is a day of contradictions. A day of joyful music. But we also know what this week holds – we are on the road to crucifixion and death. Even Jesus knew what was coming. In Luke’s Gospel it says that Jesus, “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51) That particular phrase isn’t in Mark’s gospel but it is woven in the story. In the days and weeks leading up to Palm Sunday, Jesus talked openly about what was to come next. He says to the disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” (Mark 10:33 - 34)
Now they are finally near Jerusalem. Jesus sends out two of his disciples saying, “Go into the village ahead of you and immediately as you enter it, you will there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it to me. If anyone says to you ‘Why are you doing this just say this ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately’” (Mark 11:2 – 3)
I’m guessing that the disciples were used to following directions that seem a bit strange because they did just what Jesus asked. They put their cloaks on the colt. Large crowds gathered, spread their cloaks on the ground, cut branches from trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mark)
It’s not a scene I imagine happening today. People lining streets because a prophet is coming to town. Perhaps now it would be more like filling stadiums with crowds crying out “Hosanna” which means “save us.” The expectation rings out in every word and with every wave of the palm branch or leafy branches as Mark says. The crowds believe that Jesus is the one who will save them from the cruel Roman rulers.
The disciples hoped? Knew? that Jesus was the one to save their people from the heavy hand of the Romans who ruled the land. They hoped Jesus was the one who would end their misery. The same is true for us today. Scott Black Johnson writes: “When we wave our palms and boldly cry out, "Hosanna," do we dare imagine what we really want God to save us from? Save me from anger. Save me from cancer. Save me from depression. Save me from debt. Save me from the strife in my family. Save me from boredom... Save me from the endless cycle of violence. Save me from humiliation. Save me from staring at the ceiling at three a.m. wondering why I exist. Save me from bitterness. Save me from arrogance. Save me from loneliness. Save me, God, save me from my fears. Please God take the broken places that will tear us apart and make them whole. We beseech you, God, jump into the water and drag our almost-drowned selves to shore. "Save us." "Hosanna." (www.sermons.com)
Palm Sunday is more than the sweet band of children waving palm branches. It is an invitation to let Jesus come into the broken places in our lives. As I think about Palm Sunday and the story that unfolds during holy week. I can’t help but think about hands. The hands that waived palm branches while singing “hosanna”. The hands that became fists with angry shouts of “crucify.” We use our hands in so many ways. Hands create beautiful works art or music. We can use our hands to comfort, to pray, to care. With our hands we craft weapons of destruction, with our hands we can hurt, with our hands we can destroy. That is the contradiction of Palm Sunday and Holy Week – beauty and destruction, life and death, hosanna and crucify.
The good news for us all is the hands that matter most are God’s hands. In this somber week, as we stand in the shadow of the cross we offer into God’s hands all our broken and hurting places, hoping, trusting that on Easter Sunday the tomb is empty and there is new life. Amen.