Fear v celebration
Of all Christian holy days, Palm Sunday has a distinctive emotional note: the triumph celebrated before the battle, with the people anticipating a very different battle than what was fought on Good Friday. When the time came, Good Friday looked like an irretrievable defeat. Only the later event of Jesus' resurrection revealed it as the most enduring victory of the ages.
The people expected a different battle, a worldly battle that they saw as a proxy for the spiritual one. The week definitely brought worldly political maneuvering: betrayals, in-fighting, favor-trading, posturing, even a CYA move by Pontius Pilate that still couldn't quite hide the fact that everyone's hands were dirty. Even among the "leaders of the light", the battle lines ran down the middle of the human heart. The fight that mattered saw Judas betraying, Mark (as tradition has it) fleeing, Peter talking a good game when he was safe but then before the night was done weeping in shame. Even the best of us aren't saviors. As far as the political fight, God had other plans. He was accomplishing a far larger victory than they had imagined.
Jesus' death looked like an irreversible defeat. Isn't death the ultimate irreversible defeat? By Friday night, the original Palm Sunday parade might have looked like nothing but a farce. The victory was not yet seen; the defeat seemed the obvious thing. The disciples were behind locked doors, hiding in fear.
We can find ourselves in a similar situation: where by outward appearances faith is foolish, celebration either naive or in bad taste. Palm Sunday leaves me with just one question this year: do we trust in the victory not yet seen? In some ways, Palm Sunday is the day that is most like where we are in the sweep of history: we have seen the savior, and we celebrate his coming even if we treasure our own personal interpretations of his agenda. But God's plans never take the easy way, and accomplish a larger victory than we image.
Are we willing to celebrate the victory not yet seen? Here's to a foretaste of the feast to come.