“It's Sunday, But Friday's Coming.”
March 16, 2008 (Palm Sunday)
Lake Harriet Christian Church
A little over nine years ago, I was on one of the most life-changing trips of my life. I was in my second year of seminary and decided to use the January-term to take part in one of the cross-cultural experiences all seminary students had to take. I decided to do the one in Honk Kong/China. It was led by Paul Martinson a professor at Luther Seminary, who happened to be born in China to Lutheran Missionaries. We spent two weeks in Hong Kong, learning about life in the city, especially after the changeover from British territory to a part of China. But far more interesting was the week we spent in Mainland China. We flew from Hong Kong to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in Western China. Our objective during this part of the trip was to see Chinese Christianity in action, especially in the small villages that we an hour's drive from Kunming.
We were greeted by the villagers as if we were movie stars. They gave us the royal treatment, the best food and a place of honor at the local church service. For many, this was the first time they had seen Christians from the outside world and they were excited to see us.
I remember one such greeting. We got out of our bus and had to walk a short distance to the village. We could see from the distance that the town had pulled out all the stops. The townsfolk lined the streets and there was a banner welcoming us. There was loud cheering as we walked down the Main Street. It was a joyous day to meet fellow Christians from the other side of the world.
My time in China was exciting, but it had an underside. Throughout the trip we were escorted by officials from the State. As my professor said, it was deemed “for our protection,” but he and we all knew that was not true. The officials were friendly, but their job was to make sure we and the people were met were kept in line. It was a powerful reminder that we were not in a free society like America, but one where the State kept a wary eye on its citizens.
Today is Palm Sunday. This is the day we remember Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We read that Jesus asks his disciples to acquire donkey and then the make their way into the city. People begin laying down their cloaks, and spreading palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna!” to the passing Savior.
Sometimes it's easy to see this day as a day when we celebrate Jesus as the King. We just sang the tune “All Glory Laud, and Honor” this huge celebratory hymn. As I was preparing for this sermon, I was told over and over again, that this was an example of Jesus as a different kind of King: one that would not rule like Herod or Pilate, but would rule by giving up his life.
This is all true. But like my travels in China, there are shadows underneath all the happiness.
In our culture, I think it is easy to not really focus on the gathering dark that is coming. In the churches that I grew up in, we went from Palm Sunday to Easter, without really having time to pause and reflect the betrayal and sorrow of Maundy Thursday, and the grief of Good Friday. Sure, there were services on Good Friday, but they were done in the knowledge that Easter was around the corner and everything would be okay.
But everything is not okay. It will be in the end, but right now, we don't have that hope.
Jesus comes in to town and the people shout “Hosanna!” That word means, God save us. They weren't simply shouting for joy, but were crying for help. They wanted Jesus to save them from the Romans, from their lives of poverty. They wanted to see Herod overthrown and Pilate run out of town. But Jesus would dash their hopes. Herod and Pilate would work with the religious leaders to bring Jesus down. He couldn't save them, at least not in the way they were hoping.
In some traditions, this day is called Sunday of the Passion. They decide to tell the entire story of Holy Week, sans Easter. Some churches do this because they know people will not be able to attend some of the various church services during the week, so they want to tell the whole story ending with the crucifixion. People are left with Jesus dead on a cross. All hope is gone. We are left to feel as the disciples and the friends of Jesus must have felt: alone and shocked; saddened and angry.
Palm Sunday is a reminder of how our perceptions of God come crashing down and we are left with a dead God on a cross. We are left like the disciples, in a state of shock; feeling that there is no hope.
We have all felt that way at sometime: when a loved one unexpectedly dies; when you find out you have cancer, when a beloved child causes you untold grief. We wonder where God is in our lives and get mad that God is not acting in the way we want God to.
The evangelical pastor, Tony Campolo, has a saying “It's Friday, but Sunday's coming.” That phrase is a phrase of hope. We all have Good Friday moments in our lives, but we are to take hope that Sunday, the day of resurrection, is on the way. As important as that is, we also need to sometimes live with a contrasting phrase: “It's Sunday, but Friday's coming.” Disappointment is on the way. God will fail us. We will lose hope. I'm not saying all this to say life is hopeless, but to remind us that we will face dark times in our life and we need to be aware of them and live in those moments.
If there is any hope in this coming week, it is that Jesus has experienced the same disappointment and fear that we have. Jesus cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” from the cross. He feels abandonment from God and from his friends. Jesus is disappointed by God. The One that freed the Israelites from the Pharaoh's grip could not save God's own son. Jesus knows how we feel.
It's Sunday. But Friday is coming.