This morning U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said we are entering into the “hardest and saddest week” of our lives. He was, of course, speaking about the COVID-19 pandemic. But what he didn’t realize is that his words are much more profound than simply a state on the health of Americans. The truth is, we are entering into the saddest week as Christians around the world.
Today is known as Palm Sunday. Others know it as Passion Sunday. Either way, it marks the beginning of Holy Week, the single most important week in a Christian’s life. And it is also the most profound and difficult week we experience. Why? Because Jesus invites us to enter into His passion as he prepares to take upon himself the sins of the entire world.
Palm/Passion Sunday is always a difficult one for me because I feel as if I’m in tandem between hallelujahs and despair. Up to this point in Jesus’s life on earth, he had led thousands to the Kingdom. That was his purpose within each miracle, each sermon, each touch, each word – point the world to the Kingdom of God. People were completely enthralled by Jesus. They were witnessing miracles upon miracles. They were hearing words that no religious leader had ever said. And they were determined to follow him wherever he went. So when the time came for Jesus to enter Jerusalem, the crowds were ecstatic. He was here. Their king was here. He was going to overthrow the brutal rule of the Roman Empire and set up his kingdom. So when he entered into the city, the crowd shouted hosannas and waved palms in adoration of this man they believed would save them.
Unfortunately, they didn’t understand just what kind of saving he would actually do.
In most churches on Palm Sunday there is an excitement. But what is that excitement really about? Is it because we know the ending? Or is because we know that this really fun holiday is the next Sunday? What do we get excited for on Palm Sunday? Are we more like the crowds on that day 2000+ years ago, excited but unaware of who we are really celebrating?
Nearly all the the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!”
As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?”
And the parade crowd answered, “This is Jesus.” —Matthew 21:7-11a
They knew his name. They knew he was great. But they didn’t know who he was. In fairness, neither did the disciples, not really. They simply couldn’t comprehend the truth even though they had been face to face with the Truth for three years.
So here we are, over 2000 years later and we still struggle with the Truth. We still struggle with the answer to the question, “Who is this?” So we pull out the palm branches and we say, “Hosanna” but we ask in the depth of our soul, “Who is this?”
Yes, this is a tandem moment between joy and sorrow. This is the beginning of the most difficult and painful week of all humanity. This week in 2020 we will experience death. We will experience denial of what’s to come or even of what is happening in this very moment. We will experience anger for what seems so uncontrollable. We will experience loss. The Surgeon General was absolutely right, this is the beginning of the saddest week. But not because of COVID-19. Rather, this is the beginning of the saddest week because we are walking towards Calvary.
Don’t skip over the depth of what this Holy Week means. Don’t jump from the Hosannas to the Hallelujahs without the demands of the crucifixion. His passion is meant for each one of us to embrace, experience, and exhale. A lot will happen in this holiest of weeks, both then and now. May you, too, find yourself in tandem between the joy and sorrow.
We are resurrection people but we can’t have a resurrection without a death. There is no Easter without Good Friday.
Praise be to God!