I want to talk about Palm Sunday and Holy Week but before I do, I want to tell you a little story from TikTok.
If you’re not acquainted with it, TikTok is a social media platform like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Popular content creators make money posting 60-second videos, but most of the folks on TikTok are ordinary Joes giving the rest of us little glimpses of their lives.
Soon after joining TikTok, I stumbled upon Chris, an articulate 30-something from Denver. Some of Chris’ offerings are brief reflections on what it means to be human. Other videos are light-hearted. I am not the only one who appreciates what Chris offers—he has over 800,000 fans spanning the globe.
After watching Chris’ videos for a couple months, I happened upon one in which he was unusually subdued.
“My analytics aren’t great right now and I can’t figure out why,” Chris said to the camera with big brown puppy dog eyes.
What Chris meant was that his viewership was down and he was concerned. He closed with an appeal to his viewers: use the comment section on the video to tell him what kind of content they wanted in the future.
As soon as I heard this, I left Chris a message. “Just make the videos you genuinely want to make and don’t worry about us.” To thine own self be true, in other words. “No way. Not a chance,” Chris replied almost immediately. “If I did that, I would lose viewers and a source of income.”
Holy Week begins this morning as we remember the elation of those gathered to greet Jesus as he rode into the holy city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey just as Passover was getting underway. The one from Nazareth to whom the crowd yelled “hosanna,” the one they waved on with branches of green could not have been more different than the Denver TikTok guy.
Jesus was not in the business of selling himself. He didn’t ride into Jerusalem with reins in one hand and a clicker in the other, ticking off each head in the crowd. He didn’t hold focus groups to help him shape his gospel message. He didn’t read his audiences, deftly tweaking his teachings to be more marketable.
With a heart full of love for God and God’ people, Jesus said and did exactly what that love compelled him to say and do. Whether he was healing a leper or raising Lazarus from the dead, whether he was going toe to toe with the Pharisees and scribes or trying his darndest to train up his disciples, Jesus stayed true to his purpose.
From his time in the wilderness all the way to the bitter end at Golgotha, Jesus stayed grounded in God’s truth. He didn’t give an inch. Never once did Jesus modify his message to make it more palatable. Never once did he walk a comment back with a “well, what I really meant was…” cop-out.
Even when he knew being a truthteller put him in jeopardy, Jesus said and did what he knew he must say and do. Even, especially when this involved addressing those who held power over him–the religious elites as well as the agents of Roman occupation.
Earnest and overflowing with God, Jesus did what he did and said what he said because anything less would not be true. It would not be love. Anything less would not serve anyone. Anything less would not honor God.
This is the Jesus we line the roadway to see this morning. Gathering like that first crowd did, as Jesus passes by, hungry for his message and eager for his mission to succeed, we find our hearts lifting, our spirits soaring just like theirs did.
Little has changed in two thousand years. We too ache for liberation. We too long for hope. We too want the violence and injustice of this world to become yesterday’s news, and for God’s peace and wholeness to blanket the human family. We want what the ancients wanted–goodness and mercy to follow us all the days of our lives.
Like the many who gathered long ago to honor Jesus as he passed by at the beginning of Passover, so we too want to sing Jesus’ praises and cry out “hosanna, hosanna in the highest!”
This is a day of hope, of witnessing a promise taking hold. This is a day of elation and relief. Who wouldn’t want to line the roadway and shout? Who doesn’t want to cheer on the one who goes into the holy city to challenge and change it? Who doesn’t want to side with the love, the truth, the unwavering commitment embodied in this Jesus of ours?
Jesus passes by. And we rejoice. We wave our branches. We toss down our cloaks. We cheer as Jesus shows us God’s humble, yet holy ways.
Who among us will dare to go further? Who will abandon the role of shouting spectator and cheering admirer to take up the yoke of friend and follower? Who among us will slip through the city gates so that we might bear witness to what our Jesus will do and say as he speaks truth to power in the coming days?
Who among us will stay close to Jesus as the bright colors of today’s impromptu parade fade, as the holy city’s shadows begin to fall, and then lengthen, chilling the air?
Who among us will lean in this week as Jesus is betrayed, arrested, tried, and sentenced? Who among us will go the distance for the one willing to go the distance for us?
Christian poet Ann Weems says it well in her poem “Between parades.” She writes:
We’re good at planning!
Give us a task force
and a project
and we’re off and running!
No trouble at all!
Going to the village and finding the colt,
even negotiating with the owners
is right down our alley.
And how we love a parade!
In a frenzy of celebration
we gladly focus on Jesus
and generously throw our coats
and palms in his path.
And we can shout praise
to make the Pharisees complain.
It’s all so good!
It’s in between parades that
we don’t do so well.
From Sunday to Sunday
we forget our Hosannas.
the stones will have to shout
because we [may not].
(Kneeling in Jerusalem, p. 69)
Beginning this evening and continuing on through to Saturday night, I will be sending each of you an email. Each message will invite you to reflect and pray as Jesus journeys through Holy Week. Tonight’s email will be for you to use tomorrow. Monday night’s email will be for Tuesday. And so on.
Even without a building, even without a way to gather together in the same space, we can come together to accompany Jesus as he walks the path of uncompromising, non-negotiable love.
We can do this even as Jesus’ path becomes rocky, then dangerous, and then as it opens on to hard realities, confronting us with the agony that we cannot spare Jesus the suffering and death we see coming.
Without a building, without a way to gather this week in the same space at the same time, we can come together to accompany Jesus as he willingly walks the path of love.
This one we call Rabbi, teacher, has much to teach us. This one we call Messiah has much to show us. This one we call the Christ has much to give us.
The week ahead is not for the faint of heart. As Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury observes,
“Holy Week… comes to gather us around the one true holy place of the Christian religion, Jesus himself […Jesus himself] displayed to the world as the public language of our God, placarded on the history of human suffering that stretches along the roadside.”
Williams continues. “This is a week for learning, not management, bargaining and rule-keeping, but naked trust in that naked gift [of everything Jesus has to teach us.] (Open to Judgment, p. 57)
For all our shouts and elation, Jesus’ ride past ends all too soon. And we are left with a decision. Turn toward home and go back to our lives or follow and risk being changed by what we see and feel?
Recalling that we can never be separated from God’s love even when the path grows rocky and the light impossibly dim, recalling that you are with us even in times of arrest, trial, and death, let us pray:
you went where others dared not go,
you spoke for those whose voices were not heard
or worse, were silenced.
You walked the way of the cross to lay claim to Golgotha.
So lead us through the wilderness of indifference and fear.
Give our footsteps strength and purpose.
Fill our eyes with visions of hope.
With the landless and those who long for love
to blanket this earth,
we may enter Golgotha with songs of love in our hearts.
There may we feel death pangs turn to birth pangs,
and watch as Rome and religion’s dry land
bursts forth and blooms.
And then, then let us hear your pilgrim people rejoice,
singing the songs we feared were impossible.
Walk with us this week as our hosannas fade to stony silence
and then, when all seems lost, all is lost,
be with us as dawn comes and our mouths fall open,
as our hallelujahs swirl and rise.
Rise with the One who cannot, will not, did not die.
(Adapted from a prayer by Annabel Shison-Thomas)