Next Sunday, March 20, 2016, is Palm Sunday, next week Friday, March 25, 2016, is Good Friday, and Sunday, March 27, 2016, is Easter Sunday. In other words, the remaining days and weeks of March 2016, give Christians, this year, the opportunity to commemorate and reenact the last days and weeks of the life of Jesus on earth. We propose therefore, that next three articles focus on these momentous events of Jesus and their implications for Christian living. What happened? What do they mean? How do they affect how we live today?
This three-part series will proceed as follows. The first will delve into the Palm Sunday event of long ago and how it affects how our we live now. The second article will consider the Good Friday event and what it can teach us about the world of good and evil and how we can deal with both realities. And the third and final article will focus on the Easter event and how it may teach us to live a life of victory in spite of the difficulties and challenges we experience in life.
Palm Sunday is traditionally observed on the Sunday before Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It is the Sunday when some Christians march around with palm branches or leaves in their hands singing and shouting, “Hosanna, hosanna”. What happened? What does it mean for us? How does it help us live better now?
Palm Sunday sets in motion a series of events that constitute the heart of the Christian faith, namely, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The week of Palm Sunday is called Passion Week. Passion in this context means the intense sufferings: betrayal, arrest, humiliation, false trials, insults and beatings of a good man, Jesus of Nazareth and his subsequent death and resurrection.
On that first Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in fulfillment of a prophecy and a pre-arranged event. As he came in, the ordinary people (the Masses) spontaneously cut palm branches and held them in their hands and went before and after him singing and shouting, “Hosanna, hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. The ruling authorities of both state and religion (Judaism, that is, the religion of the Jews) were disturbed and wondered, “What is going on? Who is this?” They then commanded Jesus to ask his disciples to shut up. But Jesus replied, “If they keep quiet, stones and babes will rise and shout the praise of the Son of Man” (Luke 19 and Mark 11).
This Sunday evokes mixed events and emotions. On the one hand, Jesus is declared by the Masses as their expected King, to set them free from foreign rule and improve their lives. On the other hand, a few days later he will be arrested and treated shamefully and he would appear powerless before his enemies. It is a week when evil seems to triumph over good.
What then does this event mean? The scriptural readings appointed give us a clue. Isaiah 42:1-9 declares God Almighty, Yahweh himself, as the only true Lord and Savior, there is none besides him; he alone is mankind’s righteousness and strength. In Philippians 2:5-11 Paul informs his audience that through suffering and service Jesus has earned the name that is above every name that every knee will bow to and every tongue confess him as Lord.
The Passion Gospel of Luke 23 reminds us of the road leading to the cross of Calvary: the struggle of taking this hard decision of death for miserable sinners, the betrayal by Judas, the denial by Peter, the desertion by the other disciples, the arrest, the trials of travesty of justice, the rejection by the religious leaders and the crowd, the mocking the soldiers, and the worst form of capital punishment, crucifixion.
The Palm Sunday event teaches or reminds us that people everywhere are yearning for good leadership but that they are not always reliable when it comes to selecting one if they have a choice. One day they say, “Hail him” and barely a week later they say, “Crucify him”! During election times people tend to swift loyalties unnecessarily. True leadership is about humility, using power and authority and resources to advance the greater good of all. It is about sacrificing self-interest for the greater good of all of society.
If we accept and submit to the rule and reign of God Almighty in our lives, we must then be seeking the honor of God and the good of all our society (faithfulness, justice, sharing and investing in the good of others and the wider society). Palm Sunday is about praying for and working for good leadership around and in each one of us. It is a call for God to rule and direct our lives and for us to cooperate with him to make us and our society better.