Palm Sunday Talk
by Tom Baker
April 17th, 2011, Unity Oceanside Church
Palm Sunday is an almost child-like holiday. In the Catholic church we gave out palms to each and every person and we processed around the outside of the church and everybody had fun, which was not the norm. Palm Sunday was messy and disorganized; more like vacation Bible school rather than serious and solemn church. What people seemed to like best is that they got to keep their palm. For all of the mass the congregation were waving their palms. It looked like church in Brazil. Then you got to take your palms home and lots of people braided them into crosses and kept them in a prominent place all year.
Palm Sunday is like childhood, it's the innocent, sweet beginning of holy week. Edgar Cayce in a reading about Jesus entrance into Jerusalem riding a donkey says that most of the people present were women and children. Palm Sunday is Jesus having fun. It is often said that Palm Sunday is a bitter-sweet beginning for Holy Week which moves through the sadness of the last supper which in turn leads to the horror and tragedy of the crucifixion and then concludes in surprising wonder with the amazement of the Resurrection. Yet actually Palm Sunday may begin with the great reality of the universe: innocence. It all could have ended right there. People could have said, "Wow! We get it! Let's be children and enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Right now!" They would say, "Jesus you really are Mr. Rogers aren't you?" And Jesus would say, "Welcome to my neighborhood." And Jesus would be led to the temple, which would be converted into a huge stable, which, if you remember, is where it all started in the first place. The symbols of Christianity would be a donkey surrounded by mothers and children waving palms and singing Hosanna. All ministers and priests would have to have a class in donkey riding so they could celebrate the great moment of salvation and not fall off; and each church would have a church donkey who lived very well, and the mega churches would have a whole stables of donkeys; Pat Robertson would have a donkey just for him named Regent. Easter is simply innocence triumphing over sin in the form of resurrection. In other words, when innocence is interrupted by betrayal and denial and sacrifice and sorrow, terrible pain and unspeakable grief, the man who was on the donkey, the man with the face of innocence walks out of the cemetery and innocence is back. In all the resurrection appearances Jesus is eating and having fun with his disciples and friends: no healing, no parable telling, no miracles---just Jesus mostly having breakfast and lunch with his buddies. A big reunion: It's you Jesus! And it's you Mary and Peter and Martha and Bartholemew. The face of God is the face of innocence recognizing the face of innocence. Think of a classroom full of second grade faces.
When I was a priest I went into a second grade classroom one morning during holy week. I wanted to impress upon the children the immense pain Jesus suffered for us. So I told them about how he was whipped and beaten and how the crown of thorns was mashed into his head and how the big nails were driven into his hands and feet. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a little girl with her hand raised and waving it the way second graders do, with passion and intensity. So I paused in my horror story and asked what she wanted. She asked with innocent alarm, "Why did they hurt our friend." I suddenly realized that in my attempts to teach salvation, I had challenged divine innocence of these children. I apologized and changed the subject to the Resurrection.
The face that has forgotten God is the face of exhausted despair obsessed with the cross. That was my face that morning. I could have said to little Teresa: "Sweetheart, my troubled face will be your face someday, the second grade will not last forever, one day someone will break your heart, many of your dreams will not come true, you may be diagnosed with breast cancer or have to live with diabetes or chronic pain, you may have to go through a divorce and it is certain that you will face death and more than once you will have as your companions loneliness and sorrow. Take up your cross, little one, and follow me." And she might have bowed her head and accepted the reality of life on earth that Holy Week symbolizes. Or she might have said, "But father, you are our friend too. Don't be so mean to yourself. We never get much older than seven in our hearts and Jesus is always there to hold your hand when no one else will or when nobody seems to understand. I have a donkey named Francis I'd like you to ride, and a palm for you to wave, and a child I want you to meet. His name is Tommy, Tommy Baker and his song is Hosanna. Jesus is his friend too."
My friend, your friend, the great friend to all the world, Hosanna in the highest.
© Copyright Tom Baker 2011