As I gave my Palm/Passion Sunday children’s sermon this past week I had them visualize what it’s like to be driving in a car and getting to a fork in the road. At those places the car has to turn. You could turn around, I guess. But to keep kinda’ moving forward you need to turn right or left. The same goes for when you’re walking down a hall and you see a wall in front of you. You gotta’ turn otherwise you’re going to hit the wall.
So, too, I told the kids that books and movies and fairy tales all have places where the story turns, where something happens, when one of the characters has to make a choice, where the fish, Nemo, is caught by the diver or the Little Mermaid goes out on land, or when the Hare (of the Tortoise and Hare fame) stops to take a nap. The story, instead of going forward, makes a turn. There’s a shift in the plot.
This was all part of my plan to get them to see that, as we celebrate Palm/Passion Sunday and we have our palm branches waving, the story…”turns.” And it turns in a very dark, scary, and seemingly final way. Later on, in the “grown up” sermon we looked at how dark and scary and seemingly final that “turn” is. The arrest and trial and crucifixion and death of Jesus sure looked as if the story had come to a dead end, that it had turned the wrong way, that it was over. We are a long way from parables of Good Samaritans and Prodigal Sons. We’re a long way from women at the well and women reaching out to touch Jesus’ garment. Yet we can’t help but read this dark part of the story knowing that on Easter the story turns yet again and death is swallowed up in victory.
SPOILER ALERT: JESUS IS ALIVE!
That’s one of the great benefits living in this day and age. Yes, we know that the triumphal entry into Jerusalem is short-lived. Yes, we know that those faithful disciples will leave Jesus abandoned and that one of them (yes, Judas) will betray him. Yes, we know that those crowds who are shouting out their “Hosannahs” soon start shouting out “Crucify Him.” But we know that those shouts will turn once again to “Alleluias” on Easter morning. Sure the passion narrative is dark and foreboding but we know Easter is coming. We KNOW that.
Part of the pastoral role this time of year, as I see it, is to try to live and act and feel as if we don’t know how the story turns out. I want people to imagine what it was like to be a disciple, confused at Jesus’ words at the last supper. I want folks to at least see and begin to comprehend why crowds would turn against Jesus whether or not they are able to shout out “Crucify Him!” from the pews. I want everyone to feel what it was like to have the one you called “Teacher” and “Lord” hanging from a cross. And I want this most of all for me.
This is hard. For, as opposed to seeing this all first-hand, it’s like we’re seeing the reruns after 2000 years of telling the story. For many of us, we can speak along with the characters in the narrative of Jesus’ arrest and trial and crucifixion. And even as we painfully say that “Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last” we can do so with a slight wink…for we know the spoilers. And it can be worse for us clergy types. Before Jesus entered Jerusalem we were starting to get our Easter bulletins and altars in order. Jesus isn’t even up the cross and we’re already sweeping out the tomb.
And I don’t know how to do it any differently….
For you…for me…I pray that we are able to experience the Passion of Jesus as fully as we can, even knowing what we know about Easter Sunday. For the more we live into that pain, the more we can experience the joy of Easter…when, one more time, we we hear again of how our story turns and we get to join the women in running from the tomb to tell of Jesus’ resurrection.