I was probably only six or seven, and this was my first time visiting my grandparents’ Episcopalian church. In the tradition which I grew up, we did not visit churches outside our denomination, so this was an unprecedented experience. I remember feeling unsure as to whether this was a good thing being at a different church, but was soon set at ease by a Sunday school class with a few creme filled Oreo knock offs. I didn’t know it, but we were visiting on Palm Sunday. The teacher explained how the crowds of people greeted Jesus as he rode in on a donkey. How they laid palm branches on the street for him to ride over and shouted “Hosanna! Hosanna!” as he entered the city for Passover. I thought it all sounded quite exciting and we got to practice being the crowd by shouting “Hosanna!” and waving real palm branches.
My grandparents lived off the coast of Tampa, Florida on a little island, so palm branches were in plentiful supply for use as props. We ended class with more cookies and some lemonade in small cups and by making a craft. The teacher taught us how to fold and wrap one palm frond into a cross. She said simply “Palm Sunday was the beginning of the road to the cross for Jesus. The praises of the people would turn to curses and shouts of death in a few short days.” I logged that into my mind as facts from an old story as I marveled at the real palm cross we had made. After that, I don’t recall much else. But I carried that palm frond cross around for days.
This morning as I got ready for church, my anticipation to begin Holy Week felt high. I love Easter more than any other day. The day that changed the world and my life for eternity creates a joy so big I often feel I cannot contain it. As I considered Palm Sunday the childhood memory popped into my mind and with it some realizations that have been sprouting for 35 years from a seed planted in the palm frond cross.
Palm Sunday teaches us how quickly we can go from adoration to anger when we aren’t getting from Jesus what we expect. The crowd wanted an earthly king to deliver them from Rome. They wanted immediate relief for their temporary problem of injustice. Jesus looked like just the solution with his many followers and powerful teaching and miracles. What Jesus offered was a solution to their permanent problem of justice for their sin. He promised transformation of their hearts, not their government. Jesus was not willing to give what the people wanted in exchange for what they needed, though their need would cost Him everything. And He is still offering today the only thing we need- grace that covers our sin and adopts us into God’s family. So often, I am angry when all my wants (financial security, happy teenagers, easy relationships, health) aren’t handed to me. My praises turn quickly to complaints and accusations of God not caring about me. My suffering and discomfort make me forget the King who rode in on a donkey also walked out to a hill with a cross. And there he laid his life down for me. For us all.
And it is, in fact, that very cross that turns our complaints and accusations and anger back into praise. When your soul finally gets its greatest need satisfied, your heart can begin to let go of the wants. Oh, it is a cycle we all continue in to be sure, but it keeps coming back to that cross. And that empty grave. And knowing I am forever loved and forever secure because Jesus was not deterred from his mission to bring the riches of grace to the world that would have settled for the crumbs of pleasure and distractions.