Robert Farrar Capon is most certainly correct when he suggests that Jesus’ actions at the beginning of the week of his passion are a “sustained series” or a “chain” of “acted parables.” So, when we read of the Triumphal Entry and of his weeping over Jerusalem and of his turning over tables in the temple and of his cursing the fig tree we are reading actual historical events, but they are actual historical events choreographed for very specific purposes and freighted with theological meaning. And this includes the climatic events of ministry: the Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and Second Coming. All of these historical events happened—or will happen—but there is more to them than just a happening. Confronted with all of these we are forced to ask: Why? Why did they happen? What is God up to in them? What is he communicating to us in these acted parables?
We, of course, are not above pageantry and acted parable. It’s part of the warp and woof of what it means to be human—which explains why God chooses to communicate in this way with us, and to do so most vividly. In many ways our entire existence is caught up in this way of being. Important events are marked out by dress and dance and decorum that might be different from the ordinary events of life.
Because we love pageantry, we find ways to parade our celebrations of victory through our streets. In the days of yesteryear, it used to be the military heroes who were paraded through our streets. We still have a military and we still have heroes, but their efforts are largely celebrated generally and their exploits—for good or ill—are usually kept at arm’s length. Ours is not the age of the celebration of military might, we are more comfortable with entertainment and therefore we parade celebrities through our streets and usually the ones who won the big game.
This year I followed the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament more closely than I ever have before and it didn’t take too long for me to start rooting for Texas Tech, the perennial underdog. Duke was out. North Carolina was gone. Gonzaga got chopped. But Texas Tech made it to the Final Four and to the final game.
As we might expect, there was celebration to be had on the campus of Texas Tech when their team made it to the Final Four. Celebrations in Lubbock, Texas included cheers and shouts and…burning of cars…You know, the usual stuff.
Tipping over cars and burning them can be interpreted and explained in a number of different ways, but one is to see people seeking to give outward expression to something they deem to be very important and to get the attention of everyone else. It’s not every day cars are tipped over and burned…even in Texas.
And it’s not every day that people ride into Jerusalem on an unridden before colt or who march into the temple and begin to clean house—literally.
And right when we get to close to sorting all of this out—an entry fit for a king and an action in the temple fit for a fiery prophet—comes a strange twist. Sandwiched between these parabolic actions of power, victory, glory, and triumph are tears. The king cries —better, weeps!
Palm Sunday captures this paradox and tension. It captures the paradox of victory and defeat. It reminds us that glory goes through Golgotha. It reminds us that before our celebration of Easter in one week there will be the pains and tears of death. And this explains why the church has usually called this Sunday not Palm Sunday—that is relatively new—Passion Sunday; because even though he rides in like a king and turn over the temple like a prophet, he will offer himself up as a priest and this entry into Jerusalem is the dramatic act that leads to his death. This explains why this is the only Sunday on the calendar that two gospel readings are prescribed—one from the historical narrative of his entry and the other about his death. Thus, on this Lord’s Day we pray,
Almighty and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility; Mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of this resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.