Palm Sunday marks Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. The humble palms are the heralds of the Passover holiday celebration and the very public celebrity of Jesus. But the story has a timeless relevance and is not one trapped in the annals of time. Instead, it is alive with the the congruence of human experience and the textures of human connections. The Gospel of Mark exposes the moment of Jesus’ time in Jerusalem as entirely relevant to the realities of 2021. That journey by a band of compatriots yeilds the best and the worst of us: heartbreaking betrayal, the tragedy of injustice and the cruelty of derision. And in so many ways, it mirrors moments in our lives and times.
Those on-top-of-the-world moments are encased in our own century,too, but are no less real. Jesus’ practical self awareness enabled him to identify the almost capricious sense of celebrity. He had garnered criticism and negative feedback on other occasions. Here, steeped in the Judaic tradition of Passover, he gathers and then hosts the meal which seals the bonds of identity and purpose. But he intimates so much more: in the breaking of the bread, he is deepening the connections to one another, enabling and empowering a connection to share; even in physical absence, there can be spiritual presence. And so the story starts with the strengths and benefits of companionship.
But there is the bitter and brokenness of betrayal, a trust forsaken. Just as the start indicates the instatiable human appetite to connect with another, the next passages testify to the realities of human choices and behaviors. There is a madness to it that reflects the mob mentalities of our time. And yet, Jesus, as a victim, observes and interacts with a freedom and a confidence. He dared to accept the remarkable limits of what it means to be human; in fact, he lived them. There is the arrest and the questioning, the harsh rejection of the crowd who preferred to save Barrabus. Jesus’ presence becomes his voice, and his voice is entirely silent. There are no protests, no objection, so condemnations or accusations from him. He endures the cruel derision of the crowd, the blistering of the bullies, the humiliation of ridicule. Centuries have not diminished the human capacity for such cruelty, and social media seems to have multiplied opportunities for that.
Jesus even confronts the intricacies of social structures in the story of the Passion. There is the judicial ritual, the Pharisees and the calamitous crowd jutting up against the dispassionate Romans. Centuries later, national and ethnic identities aside, all lives are lived within this network of “invisible” systems that determine the course of social evernts. Jesus dealt with that reality just as we do. The palm is a reminder of human reality, our own included.
Finally, there were the women who asked for his body and there was the kindness of Joseph of Armithea. Those connections, that kindess, marks the love and relationships that sustained companionship and community, that ultimately overcame the cruelty and the injustices. Palm Sunday is an invitation to enter into the fullness of human relationship, to realize that there is an invitation to believe here, to model as Jesus does, to forgive the broken trusts and to keep working on moving forward. The truth is that understanding and appreciating Palm Sunday is really about understanding and appreciating what it means to be human. Suffering is an inevitable part of that, but so is hope. Limitations are human realities, and Jesus not only observes that but exhibits it in calling out to the Father, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He knows, shares, the despair of human life.
To be human is to be complicated. Palm in all its simplicity, reminds us that life is difficult, failure is frequent, and Jesus is with us. Always.