From the Newsletter: Palm Sunday and the Victory of Nuance


Dear Friends of Second Church,

Palm Sunday is such a strange, even ironic holiday.

It’s ironic because it is such a celebration — Jesus and his followers enter the capital city to great fanfare.  The crowd looks on and cheers, reveling in the thought that, one way or another, it’d be a hot time in the old town tonight — and yet, within days, all appearances will seem to suggest that the party’s over. Jesus will be dead, his disciples hiding, the would-be revolution stopped in its tracks.

Palm Sunday invites us to rekindle the hope and joy of freedom on that first march. For many of us, it’s not all that hard to do.  After all, it’s a hope that so many still yearn for, and it doesn’t take much for most of us to imagine being in that crowd, cheering ourselves hoarse for the great reckoning that it seems to promise.

But of course, now we also know how the story unfolds from there.  We know that the road to the future has not turned out to be nearly as simple as it might have seemed on that first Palm Sunday.

Most of all, we know what happens next to Jesus.  The first reckoning turns out to be his.

Which means, in part, that the ultimate reckoning isn’t only Rome’s.  It’s also ours.

We know that because the freedom Jesus wanted us for us was, in the end, something much bigger than simply throwing the bad guys out and putting the good guys in.

But the crowds weren’t interested in that kind of complexity.

Instead, what interested them was religion’s power to simplify — to curse — to demonize.  They craved righteousness, but sadly, the only righteousness they seemed to recognize turned out to be of a kind made in their particular image.

Jesus had no time for ersatz righteousness.

He wanted to offer us nothing short of a new world — and one that operates according to different rules entirely from the old world.

He saw a way of living with compassion and sacrifice, truth and fairness at the center, not only of our personal lives, but of our common life.

As we know, that’s not the kind of life that everybody has in mind, or the kind of freedom that animates them. That’s always been true.

In the last week of Jesus’ life, it became clear that liberation — liberation in the way he meant it — turned out to be a much bigger proposition than many in that original Palm Sunday crowd were able to imagine, or were prepared to work for.

It asked them to imagine a world wise enough, patient enough, and confident enough to love enemies, pray for persecutors, and stand up for nuance.

He knew that to live that way was to live unshackled by fear and ignorance, and the self-interested persuasion of the wicked.

When the crowd cheered him on Palm Sunday, little did they realize that it was this deeper kind of freedom that Jesus was proclaiming.

As he rode on the back of the donkey along that royal road of palms, Jesus went straight into the heart of the city.

But more than that, he went straight into the heart of God — praying that we might follow and seek him there.

That’s where he waits for us even now.



See you in church,

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