The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Palm Sunday

It's a confusing day

In the large nondenominational congregation in which I grew up, we flew from Palm Sunday to Easter without a stopover at either Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.

I wondered then what all the fuss was about as we moved from a tickertape parade as Jesus rode into Jerusalem to an Easter Resurrection with flowers, trumpets and more folks in new clothes than I could count. All acted as if this resurrection business were a tidy transaction. Oh yes, that messy business on Friday did get honorable mention. But—“presto-chango”—Easter was the undoing of the unpleasantness that was best left hardly mentioned like a troubling family secret.

Later as a high school student when I became a Lutheran, it hit me that Palm Sunday is full of irony. We welcome a hero, playing “Hail to the Chief” when the “Chief” rides into town, not on a white stallion like a conqueror but in the equivalent of the Volkswagen Beetle of the day.

The late author Kurt Vonnegut once said Palm Sunday was “a brilliant satire on pomp and circumstance and high honors in this world.” In truth it was a bunch of folks celebrating the wrong thing for the wrong reason at the wrong time.

Yet Jesus doesn’t seem to discourage the praise of God by the multitudes. Instead he says to the Pharisees who want him to hush folks up that if he did, the very rocks would sing it forth!

After that Jesus is bathed in tears as he sees the city of Jerusalem and ponders its fate. In the following scene Jesus is madder than blazes, upsetting tables and driving out the currency exchangers.

Palm Sunday is a confusing day of hosannas and tears, humility and fame, temple teaching and rabble-rousing. The suffering to come hangs in the air like a thundercloud even though folks are singing “You Are My Sunshine” to Jesus.

Into the confusion of our expectations as well, Jesus rides as the only kind of God who can really help us—a suffering God.

And it is a suffering God we greet with: “Hosanna! Blessed is the king ... who comes in the name of the Lord.”


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February issue


Embracing diversity