A priest and performer considers religion, the arts, and the often thin space between sacred and secular, church and culture, pulpit and pew.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

At the End of the Day

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

At the end of the day, Jesus goes into the temple. It’s quiet now, but the noise of the crowds still echoes in his head, the shouts of “Hosanna” still ring in his ears. It’s late; too late for anything else to be done on this day, in the temple or anywhere else. So at the end of the day, he leaves for Bethany with the twelve.

At the end of the day the trees are stripped bare; the dirty, torn cloaks still litter the roadway into the city; the discarded branches lie in the dust. The donkey colt, presumably, has been returned to its rightful owners.

At the end of the day the crowds have dispersed, for the most part. The faithful are waiting to celebrate the Passover. The money-changers are waiting to set up shop the next day, unaware of the wrath that awaits them. The Roman soldiers have retired to their barracks, Pilate has gone to the governor’s residence. The religious authorities have gone home, as well, no doubt more than a bit unsettled by the spontaneous demonstration caused by the presence of the rabbi from Nazareth. Should they themselves put it down before the Roman governor gets wind of it and something more violent occurs?

At the end of the day the city of Jerusalem is silent, waiting, dark.

Our Palm Sunday celebrations pack so much into this one morning. In the space of little more than an hour we absorb the events of an entire week – exuberance and joy at the expected liberation of an oppressed people, horror and disbelief at justice miscarried, grief at the death of Jesus and what appears to be the end of a dream. We are witnesses to denial, betrayal, power sold out and violence victorious. Not all that different from life in our own time.

Which is all the more reason to let ourselves be shaped by the events of Holy Week. Injustice and oppression continue, violence rules the day, and far too many people live on the brink of death – physical death, of course; but also spiritual and mental and emotional death. Christ is crucified again and again, and hope seems absent.

At the end of the day, we can choose whether or not to be agents of the kingdom, messengers of the reign of God. We can choose to be the wounded hands and feet of Jesus, serving others in his name and working, bit by bit, to dismantle the powers that put Christ to death. But to do that we’ve got to do more than put down our palm branches; we have to pick up our cross, as well.

That requires sacrifice, and there’s no shortcut and there’s no back door entrance. At the end of the day we can’t just be in the triumphant Palm Sunday procession; we’ve got to be in the one that goes to Calvary as well.

At the end of the day, where will we be?


  1. This is my favorite week of the entire liturgical year. I get that we hear the entire story of the passion today, but I also LOVE that on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we relive the entire procession. Do you do an actual procession around your church with palms? We used to do that at a previous church, but now at the one we are with now.

  2. We started outside today, and process into the church with our palms. When the weather is nicer we move farther from the building and have more of a parade.