I think I’ve mentioned here before the fact that I, while I grew up in the church, I did not grow up in the tradition in which I now serve. The church of my youth was much less “liturgical”, “formal”, and “fancy” (choose which ever adjective you’d like to use to describe the Episcopal Church these days), and things like Holy Week, or marking any other feast days, for that matter, were a little bit foreign. We did, however, celebrate both Palm Sunday and Easter. These, along with Christmas Eve formed the “holy trinity” (lower case intended) of the annual cycle of the church year.
What was strange to me, though, and even as a child, was the similarity between Palm Sunday and Easter, at least as we celebrated them. Frankly, I can remember thinking that Palm Sunday was much more interesting that Easter. No, we didn’t have eggs or candy – I knew that those were non-church things, though – but we had a parade and we learned how to tie our palm fronds into crosses and that was cool. You can’t tie a lily into a cross. And wearing a jacket and tie for Easter was no fun.
“Two parties separated by a week,” was the sense I used to have of Palm Sunday and Easter. Jesus comes triumphantly into Jerusalem and is hailed as a victorious king on Palm Sunday. One week later he is raised from the dead! Hooray! I wonder why thy couldn’t be collapsed into a single event. Palms + Parade + Eggs + Candy (+Jesus stuff, I guess) = BEST SPRING FESTIVAL EVER!!!!
It wasn’t until I was older that it dawned on me that in all of the partying I had glossed over a pretty important part of the story. In fact, depending on who you ask, I could be criticized for skipping the WHOLE story. Whether or not you have a party mind-set about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, in order for him to have been raised from the dead the next week, something important needs to have happened in those seven days. JESUS MUST HAVE DIED!!!!!
And there’s the kicker.
As much fun as Palm Sunday can be. And, trust me, it is supposed to be fun – Christians have been parading around with their palm-fronds pretty much since the time of Jesus – it is not supposed to be the same kind of fun as Easter. There is a more-than-subtle irony that hovers over the Palm Sunday party. A foreshadowing of the events of the end of Holy Week that tinges, ever so slightly, the kind of celebration that we understand Palm Sunday to be.
Pause and think about it today, if you get a chance. What does it mean for us to know that this victorious hero will, in 4 short day, be dead? What might it have meant for him to know that, too? How is it that the same crowd that parties in the street, today, will, before mid-week, turn into a murderous riot?
This is how Holy week goes.