You know, of all the Christian holidays, Palm Sunday strikes me as being a bit weird. I mean, yes, I know it’s the start of Holy Week, and the beginning of the end of Jesus’ pre-death ministry, but I don’t quite get why churches celebrate it with such enthusiasm. Yes, Jesus was riding into Jerusalem in a happy impromptu processional, with people cheering him on and calling him “Savior”, but we kinda also know that five days later, a good chunk of that same fanclub were demanding his crucifixion. Not so much joyful as painfully ironic.
Makes me wonder how he saw it.
(We know he had time for some of his trademark snark. “Teacher, tell your mindless groupies to shut up!” “Right. If I did that, the rocks’d start singing.”)
But you can’t beat it for sticking the bright and the dark right alongside each other. Five days – five days – between this and the Crucifixion. And I see no reason why those people, the very people who switched sides, were not sincere both times. ‘Cause people are like that. The loudest praise and loudest condemnation can come from the same person. Sometimes rightly so, when someone’s been betrayed. Maybe they thought Jesus had betrayed them? They did think the Messiah was some kind of political revolutionary. It’s a fair guess they didn’t know what was going on – the disciples didn’t know what was going on. All we know is that that same love, that same passion, that same joy existed right next to the darkness. The two are found together in any given soul. Doesn’t take Holy Week to work that one out.
The same pattern runs throughout the world. Every happiness has its bitterness. Every loss has its joy. Plants grow out of decay, and flower beautifully in desolation. People do horrible things to each other, and sometimes do wonderful things because of those horrible things. The world’s a chiaroscuro of good and evil, from nations to seconds of time. Tragedy brings out compassion, terror brings out strength. The mighty fall, and the humble rise up. Erosion tears down mountains, but shapes them into dreams of stone along the way.
How beautiful is the world! It’s full of terrible things. There’s parasites and venoms and predators and diseases. We get sick, we get injured, we suffer. But then the beauty of love blossoms, and kindness and sacrifice bear fruit. Suffering can turn into wisdom, compassion, and grace.
How beautiful is the world! People do terrible things to each other. There’s abuse, and neglect, and manipulation, apathy and cruelty. But each one of us can turn it around. We can help each other. Maybe we can’t undo the damage, but we can repair it. We can restore each other. The root of the problem is not beyond digging out. The abused is not beyond help, and the abuser is not beyond redemption. I believe in a God of infinite love and grace, and our finite brokenness doesn’t stand a chance. It takes a lot of work to nurse a broken, blasted tree back to health, to get the sterile ground to flower again, but it’s not impossible.
How beautiful is the world! It’s a lot bigger than us, and threatens to destroy us. But we have knowledge, and science, and hard work. Put those three together, and we can do great things. We can see the darkness and the evil and we can come up with new ways to fight it. Farmers invent new ways to grow food in a famine. Chemical engineering gives us fresh water out of salt. A little sunlight, a little silicon, a little circuitry, and suddenly there’s electricity to use. We can drive out sickness, heal injury, advance life. Give science a challenge and it will create wonders.
How beautiful the world is, and how terrible! We all die in the end. Monuments crumble, and machines grind to a halt. Our hatred spreads atrocities that cannot be erased. Books moulder, film dissolves, languages disappear. The trees can outlive my city because that’s how they grow, more resilient than anything we can build. Even if our whole nation went up in a mushroom cloud, that wouldn’t change the stars, and the sun and moon will still shine down. Evil is here and now, it lives in time and right now it’s not going anywhere. But it will. The good we do will endure forever, our evil will be burned away.
And I can sit here and know that every beauty will endure, that all the things that grieve me will pass.
We know about the crowds that cheered Jesus on Palm Sunday, and we know a lot of those same people jeered him on Friday. We never find out what they did after that. Y’know, some of them might’ve realized what was really going on. Some of ’em might have been among the many who saw Jesus resurrected. Some might have been the first Christians. And maybe Jesus was thinking about that, knowing that yeah, some of that crowd was never coming back, but some of them were. For some of them, the jeering was what they really believed. But for others, the real thing was the joy.