Palm Sunday is the Sunday one week before Easter–named for the day Jesus entered into Jerusalem, greeted by crowds who laid coats and palm branches on the road before him (you can read the story in John 12:12-19).
It’s also the Sunday where church gatherings retell the story of Jesus’s betrayal, trial, and crucifixion. It’s a heavy day, remembering the injustice of his death in the hands of confused, upset government and religious rulers. We watch as Jesus steadily and knowingly walks the path to his death. We remember how quickly he was abandoned by Peter and the other men who followed him. Sometimes we hear our own voices yell “Crucify him!” as the crowd hands him over to the Roman Empire, condemned to a public beating and execution.
But on the same Sunday, we wave palms and sing along with those who met him in Jerusalem, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!” Are we hypocrites? Is this a contradiction?
Or have we beheld the paradox that for life to go on living, it requires the sacrifice of death? Our culture shields us from this pretty drastically–in our consumer mindset, life is just one, long line of motion. It’s a conveyor belt in one direction and you just have to stay the course, keep moving forward, and get as much as you can along the way. The reality of death is an inconvenience we’ve relegated to hospitals and factory farms. In our forward-motion, we think of death as a tragedy.
Maybe Jesus was showing us that death is nothing to fear. Maybe as he walked the path to the cross, he knew he was modeling the acceptance of his own mortality to show us that this is where life is truly found. When we realize that even the salad we ate for lunch required the sacrifice of another’s life to sustain our own, we can embrace our life with gratitude as the gift it is. When we see that death is part of the fullness of life, we can see the courage modeled in Jesus Christ as he freely gave his life away as a sacrifice that we may live.