Palm Sunday, Triumphalism, and Leadership


Yesterday was, as mentioned Palm Sunday where we mark Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem where the authorities will murder him within the week. Like all the events we will mark this week, there are lessons for us to learn. This is a post that we publish for Palm Sunday every year because we all need reminding of the lessons it holds.

On Palm Sunday, way back in the mid 60’s, according to the traditions of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, I became a man, with all the responsibilities to God that that carried. It was also when you traditionally got your first suit. The Sunday before was Examination Sunday, the test was verbal, in front of the congregation. This entitled me to take my First Communion on Easter Sunday, as was considered meet and right.

As always the Sanctuary was decorated in palm fronds commemorating Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Also as on all special Sundays we processed behind the Pastor and Choir up the center aisle to this, Hymn No. 1 in the old E&R Hymnal.

And so I became responsible for my own everlasting fate, which up until this time had been my parents (and Godparents) responsibility.

Palm Sunday was, of course, the most triumphant day of the Christ’s ministry. With the adoring and worshipful crowds which of course would soon demand and receive his death.

What can we learn from this? General Patton put it this way:

“For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. . .

A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”

We know that earthly glory is fleeting, who can recite the exploits of Edward Longshanks, or Frederick Barbarossa from memory. Sure we remember some of our founders but its only been a few generations, and we have been trained (some of us anyway) pretty well.

But what is different about the Christ, other than the Resurrection that is. Like most troublemakers through the ages he died a common criminals death. Think about that for a moment. Within a week he went from the darling of the populace, to an executed criminal, that’s quite a fall, in any time or place.

The other thing is: He never forgot the mission. What thoughts must have been in his mind on that long ago Palm Sunday, knowing, as he did, the fate that awaited him. But he never flinched, only prayed that this fate might be averted. He knew, as did his disciples and followers in coming times, that there would be many martyrs, Saints of the Faith, if you will. There will be many more. Christianity, even more than the Judaism from which it sprang, is the religion of the oppressed, the underdog, the person who never got a fair shake in this world, the sovereign individual made in God’s image. All you have to do is: Remember the Mission and take care of your people. The shepherd of the flock. And that is more than most of us can do consistently, without God’s help, because it is one of the most difficult missions ever entrusted.

Do not fall into the trap of triumphalism, earthly glory leads to nothing but trouble. I think most of us know this instinctively. What is the thing we remember about George W. Bush? He had many faults, which most conservatives can recite from memory. But, and it’s a huge but, he was a humble God-fearing man. To me, that is a lot of the difference between him and Barack Obama. Obama wants lives for the acclaim of the crowd, the earthly glory, one could easily call it the cult of personality.

And so the lesson for me from this Palm Sunday is the old one that the US Air Force taught me long ago and far away:

First the Mission

Second the People

Last Yourself.

Over at Jess’s site,  a few years ago Chalcedon talked about going into Holy Week, his thoughts are well worth review.

It will soon be Palm Sunday; Lent is coming to its appointed climax. In Sunday’s Gospel we get the first sign of a something which will become more prominent on Maundy Thursday – Jesus’ fear of what awaits him: ‘Father, save me from this hour’. He would have seen crucifixions; he knew what there was to fear. Crucifixion was intended to instil fear; it was brutal, bloody and fatal. Yet it was for ‘this hour’ that Jesus had come into the world. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us so that He might be raised up as the propitiation for our sins. He died for our sins.

There is this something against which our notions of justice rail. How, we ask, can it be right for an innocent man to die for the guilty?’ What sort of Father, we wonder, sacrifices his son for rogues such as ourselves. Of late I have found praying the Sorrowful Rosary next to impossible; the envisaging of what happened to Jesus unsettles my prayer, and it is only by thinking on what was to come that I get through. But, as St Isaac reminds us, this is an act of love. There were, he tells us, many ways God could have chosen to save us, and by choosing this one, he shows us the extent of His love; I think He also shows us the extent of our sins.

Soon, then, we shall be following the familiar story of the Passion of the Lord, Perhaps its familiarity robs it of its power for us, so we might want to spend more time meditating on it. Every stripe applied to His back is a sin of mine; that Crown of Thorns he bears, they are the sting of my sins; and high on that Cross on Calvary my sins are forgiven, and through Him I am saved from my sins.

[First published on 24 March 2013]

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13 Responses to Palm Sunday, Triumphalism, and Leadership

  1. the unit says:

    Chalcedon’s thoughts gives me something to seriously consider.
    I guess it’s been several years now since I asked here why the righteous suffer along with the unrighteous? It was concerning my mom’s long suffering health afflictions, then both her home and church being completed washed away in the storm I’ve mentioned. And I mean complete…even foundations undermined!
    Anyway following Chalcedon’s line of thought, that’s how terrible and serious sin is and what is the price to pay for it. As Chalcedon says I guess God could have chosen another way to save us. But He didn’t and I just have to graciously accept it and profess that I do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • the unit says:

      P.S. I didn’t mean to reverse Who was the gracious one. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • NEO says:

        Easy enough to do, and I didn’t catch it. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          Got to use the right word with the right definition.
          Yeah, wife and I babysitting today while daughter and hubby works.
          Baby was sitting in some kind of seat while wife fed her. A some kind of rubber device never saw before with our children. Wife tried to lift her and thing clasped her legs. Wife said to “squeeze” it open to release legs. I said “Hell no, I got to spread the thing!” Yep, bending it to spread it released, not squeezing.
          The righteous…. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          These new fangled things, Huh? 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Pretty much how I see it. I think you asked that question of Jessica early in September 2014, just after she went to the hospital with cancer, so I gave you rather a poor answer, I suspect. 🙂 In truth, it’s something that bothers us all, sometimes.

      Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        Maybe since we all still sinners despite our declarations, we get what’s coming to us on earth. 🙂
        Yeah, I remember you said Jessica could answer better. Seems I remember maybe you directed me to one of her previous articles.
        Anyway, you did good, no blubbering about making me think you expert. 🙂
        I think maybe what mom said when I asked her why was just the statement, no question. The righteous suffer with the unrighteous. The way it is. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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