Palm Sunday is filled with music. This Sunday we can look forward to the children singing (so cute!) and our bell choir (beautifully ringing from our balcony). For the 86th time in our history, the men’s chorus will sing “The Palms.” This tradition, started by Vernon Wetherell in 1933, celebrates Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem and is a highlight of this special day.
To top it all off, we will also be celebrating a baptism (congratulations, Mila!). It promises to be a joyous, uplifting service.
But. Here’s the thing about Palm Sunday. It’s tricky. Just when you think it’s safe to relax in the joy and praise – Hosanna! – It takes a turn. The service shifts. The music fades away. The lights are dimmed. The flowers and the altar cloths are removed. In the bleak silence we hear the story of Jesus’ arrest, pain, doubt, agony, temptation, and loss.
Palm Sunday invites us to enter Holy Week, the days that will – eventually – lead us to Easter.
When the going gets tough, we’d rather be singing. Who wouldn’t prefer one more verse of “Glory, Laud, and Honor” rather than thinking about life’s hardships – betrayal, fear, tears, and suffering.
What’s wrong with Christians? Are we masochists? Gluttons for punishment? Why do we have to consider those elements of human life that we would rather avoid? Why do we listen to the litany of suffering that Jesus endured?
We’d rather be singing.
We listen because it’s part of our Christian story. Even more than that, it is part of our human story. Every life contains twists and turns. Everyone will encounter moments of despair. Every life confronts painful loss and sadness.
Palm Sunday reminds us that we are not alone on that journey. Jesus went before us. He knows the path, he has experienced this a lifetime of heartbreak. When we lift up urgent prayers for ourselves and others, we are speaking to One who knows. Palm Sunday provides profound Good News; even when we are on an unwanted journey or our life has taken an unexpected turn, we have good company along the way.
So this Sunday, if you are filled with joy, go ahead and sing songs of praise. Lift up your voice to celebrate the “one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Hosanna! Celebrate old traditions and welcome new forms of worship and praise.
If, however, you are not able to muster a song and you can find no reason to be thankful, remember Palm Sunday is for you, as well. Joy and sadness are often intertwined in our complicated human lives. In the quieter moments of Palm Sunday, listen for words of comfort, courage, and hope. Wherever we are on life’s journey – filled with cheer or bent over in grief – God provides the music to guide our paths.