Each year those leading worship and preaching are asked to choose between emphasising either Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday. They have distinct emphases, it is argued, and doing both is too much, too confusing. Perhaps. But I think a few notes of frenzy and confusion are in order to capture the mood and events of the week we call “holy.” It is a week of great swings in emotions, fortunes, and more.
The key to navigating it all is locating a particular element that ties the various passages and emphases together. The element that I will choose to reflect on this year is courage. Notice, for instance, that in the accounts of both the Triumphal Entry and the Last Supper, Jesus makes preparations. He identifies ahead of time someone with a colt and makes arrangements to use it on that day. Similarly, he contracts with someone earlier for a room in which to share the Passover meal with his disciples.
When we reflect on this we can see that Jesus chooses his actions. His fate is not some tragic accident or unexpected twist of fate. Rather, he looks his destiny in the eye and chooses to embrace it, even when it includes, as St Paul notes often in the epistles he wrote, death on the cross. This is the very definition of courage, as courage is not having no fear, but rather acting faithfully in spite of fear.
For this reason, Paul sings, Jesus is praised— not because of his divine nature or status of equality with God, but rather because out of great love he gave all those things up, taking on our lot and our life in order to be joined to us in every possible way. The result is that wherever we may go and whatever we may experience, we know that Jesus has already been there. And where Jesus now is, we are promised we shall someday be. In other words, given the choice Jesus didn’t choose the easy way but out of love chose a way that would lead to a very gruesome death.
Jesus is revealing, perhaps too subtly, that what he brings is very different from what previous rulers and most of the rulers of today offer. Yet the crowds missed that then and many of us still miss that today. Most of the disciples don’t understand it. They’re too busy calling for salvation, and they know exactly what they want that to look like. This is one of the challenges of Holy Week— letting go of what we want salvation to be and allowing ourselves to be open to what it is.
Easter helps us not to fear death; however, most of us are still afraid of dying. This coming week, Holy Week we remember a lot of dying. The recollections of betrayal and false accusation and crucifixion cause us to tremble, but the dying begins here, with branches in our hands. Dying well takes honesty and courage no matter what the circumstances. How honest are we ready to be? Are we honest about our discomfort at being touched?
Are we honest about our uncertainty at the story of the crucifixion? Our sense of being overwhelmed or underwhelmed by a story that’s been told many times? Are we willing to be honest that Jesus isn’t the king we are expecting? Are we prepared to die to the notion that goodness, our right behaviour, can make us right with God? Are we prepared to be honest that we don’t always look for Jesus in others, and we do not always let people see Jesus in us?
In this Holy Week, are we prepared to die, within ourselves and in our actions, to our prejudices, fears, and insecurities? Are we prepared to crucify injustice, anger, judgment, and mistrust? Will we cry, “Hosanna to the King of Kings,” and mean, “Save us, Jesus, save us”? Are we prepared to seek goodness in our world, speak out about injustice and act in a way that is loving to all creation both human and otherwise?