Palm Sunday just about does me in every year. It’s not the length of the gospel, although the Passion, especially Luke’s version, is long. But that’s okay, because Luke’s version is my favorite as it includes the story of the good thief and the bad thief. Remember? The two thieves are, in St. Luke’s gospel, hanged one on each side of Jesus. The bad thief mocks Jesus, saying if he is God, he should free them all from the cross. The good thief says hey there Buckaroo, at least we deserve our fate, but he’s done nothing wrong. Jesus promises the good thief that he will be in heaven that very day.
It’s always troubled me that the version we read tells us that Jesus told the good thief, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise,” because we know he was put in the tomb and didn’t rise until the third day. I read something recently however that I found interesting. There is a translation that puts the comma in a different place. Instead, it says “Amen, I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise. “I like that version, so that’s how I’m going to see that sentence from now on.
Anyhoo, the reason Palm Sunday gets to me has more to do with all of the pomp and circumstance around the holy day. The Palm Sunday ceremony recreates Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem a mere few days before he is arrested and subsequently put to death. At the church we attend in Mesa, after the palms are blessed outside, the procession into the church begins. Twenty or so men and women carry huge palm leaves into the church. After entering the church, they line up along the aisle, and await the arrival of the priest, who recreates the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem (sans the donkey), while the choir sings some version of Hosanna to the son of David. This year, Bill was one of the palm-bearers. So a ceremony that always makes me tear up this year made me cry like a newborn baby. Because BILL.
Seeing Bill in the role of one of those people who went from cheering Jesus’ arrival to calling for his crucifixion as quickly as a Ferarri goes from 0 to 60 mph reminded me that they were people just like us. Plain, ordinary people who can be easily persuaded to turn their/our backs on God.
No matter which Gospel-writers’ Passion is read on Palm Sunday, the congregation participates in its reading. We are the ones who holler for the release of Barrabas and beg for Christ’s crucifixion. We are the ones who mock him and spit on him. Playing that role always makes me uncomfortable. But I guess it’s good to remind ourselves that we are sinners who are saved by Jesus’ resurrection which we will celebrate in a few days.
And no matter whose version of the passion of Jesus we are reading, when we kneel following the words Father, into your hands I commend my spirit and when he had said this he breathed his last, I cry.
I didn’t always cry at these words. When I was younger I’m sorry to say that I was just glad that the long reading was nearly over. But perhaps as I’ve aged, and become more aware of my own death (and hope for the resurrection of my own body), I know that what Jesus did for us is nearly overwhelming.