My, we’re busy today! We get Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem AND the horrifying story of his betrayal and murder. The day expresses the terrible tension between God’s will and human will. It might seem like too much. Many of us (especially those of us who grew up Lutheran) doubtless have celebrated this day with just the triumphal entry being read. I know that I, on more than one occasion, have asked, “Why do we read the Passion today when the passion really happens on Good Friday and we’re going to read if from John, then, anyway?” I’ve been answered, “Because we won’t all come back on Friday to hear it.” Which is true, and inadequate. We’ve been holding both regular Sunday worship and Palm processions on this day for 1700 years. The Passion has been today’s appointed gospel for centuries. The two services have been united for a millennium, at least. (It was actually a Lutheran innovation, and in retrospect not one of our better ideas, to eliminate the Passion reading on this date.)
It is Sunday, the first day of creation. This “Holy Week” is a paradigm for every week in the Church Year. We start today, and end on Easter Sunday, the Eighth Day. Every Sunday is both the start of a new week, and the extra day full of grace that last week could not contain. We start today, the first day of creation. We have enacted the terrible tension between God’s will and human will. On the First Day, “God said, ‘Let there be light’: and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light and the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.” On the First Day, Humans hail Jesus as King then promptly murder him. We don’t waste any time! It’s like when you’re little, and mom says, “I’m going out to the clothesline. I am going to take down what is there and bring it inside. I’ll be right back.” And when she comes in five minutes later your toys are all over the floor and she’s all like, “Why is your brother in the pantry with the chair wedged against the door so he can’t get out?” And you’re all, “I could ask you the same question!” God makes light, separates it from darkness and calls light, day, and dark, night, turns around to brag to the angels about how cool it is, and by the time God turns back we’ve killed God’s son and shoved him in a hole in the rock.
Somehow…somehow, all that God has made is good, and we are seriously messed up critters. This week will enact that. We will marvel at the Son of God stripping down to wash his disciples’ feet the way we might strip down before bathing a child; and we will watch as he is handed over to a death we can do nothing to stop, and ask ourselves, “Are we aiding and abetting in the crucifixion?” But then this week will break. We’ll have the great Three Days, which are another story altogether, and we’ll talk about them come Thursday. And we’ll have the Eighth Day. We’ll have another Sunday. We’ll have the day full of grace that this broken and seriously messed up week couldn’t hold. We’ll have a new creation breaking into this one as Jesus breaks out of the tomb. And what’s more: today is last week’s Eighth Day. Today, even in the midst of that terrible tension between God’s will and our will, God is breaking in: in Joseph of Arimathea who takes down the body, in the faithful women who we learn at the last don’t abandon Jesus, in Jesus’ magnanimous promise from the cross that even the condemned join him in paradise. There is a terrible tension today; it breaks in God’s favor.