By NEMS Daily Journal
The beginning of Holy Week tomorrow – Palm Sunday – invites, perhaps demands, mixed emotions on the part of Christians who have followed the historic, traditional observances of Lent.
Introspection. Self-denial. Prayer. Fasting for many. Intentional thought and meditation on belief, hope and, yes, doubt.
A seriously undertaken special season like Lent becomes wearing on almost all who commit to such disciplines. It becomes both work and preparation for more work.
Palm Sunday observance, despite modern practice that often stops with happy processions and palm branches, historically is a sword more than a “festal banner” as one traditional hymn describes.
The triumphal entry of Jesus of Nazareth into Jerusalem for Passover week also is called Passion Sunday because it’s the first scene of what’s about to unfold.
The fans who cheered apparently in large measure melted away during the week as the people in charge of religion and of law and order tightened the screws on this itinerant preacher who had attracted a large following – large enough in scriptural narratives to threaten the status quo.
Palm Sunday begins days of uncertainties as the story of Jesus’ final days unfolds, and the uncertainties importantly were not those of his followers alone, but of Jesus himself.
C.S. Lewis, the brilliant writer and Christian apologist, wrote in his final book, “Letters to Malcolm,” about the Garden of Gethsemane narrative and Jesus’ reluctance: “But for this last (and erroneous) hope against hope, and the consequent tumult of the soul, the sweat of blood, perhaps He would not have been very Man. To live in a fully predictable world is not to be a man.”
The Baptist preacher Peter Gomes, in a Palm Sunday sermon, said, “Jesus did not die to spare us the indignities of the wounded creation. He died that we might see those wounds as our own. He died that we might live, and live fully and hopefully – please note the use of the adverb ‘hopefully’ as ‘full of hope’ – not in some fantastic never-never-land not yet arrived, but in ambiguous reality here and now. Look at the cross and the suffering, bleeding Savior. Beyond tragedy is truth redeemed. Look and live!”
The priest and monk Henri Nouwen puts the Passion squarely in the middle of Christ’s work, first quoting Jesus, “If I am not doing my Father’s work, there is no need to believe me; but if I am doing it, then even if you refuse to believe in me, at least believe in the work I do; then you will know for sure that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’” (John 10)
“Life is a struggle and choosing to live the struggle gratefully and humbly as a child of God makes all the difference between a fulfilled life and an empty life.”
Nouwen’s inspiration was the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and he casts everyone, including himself, in the role of the Prodigal.
We are lost but we can find our way and be welcomed home.