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Awkward Palm Sunday: going beyond our limits.

When I was growing up, Palm Sunday was the day when it felt like everyone was in the choir. I loved being in the choir. Processing was the best part. The organ swells, you are surrounded by singers--adults and children alike--and you are marching. A little glimpse of glory every Sunday morning for this suburban girl. I even wrote about it in my middle school yearbook profile. Not a cool move socially, but processing with the choir, I always felt mighty.

Then on Palm Sunday, everyone took to their feet. Or so it seemed. Really, we were just joined by the rest of the Sunday school. But with banners and palm branches waving, we thronged to the front of the church, shouting our loud hosannas to beat the band.

As an adult, Palm Sunday feels different.

I'm not sure if it is awkward because waving at parades is out of character for most Presbyterian congregations or because we know all too well where the week ahead will lead. Or maybe this kind of imaginative historical re-enactment doesn't quite feel like worship. We are self-conscious when we're handed the palms.

There is also an undiscussed story of disappointment running through the Palm Sunday narrative. The crowds have heard the age-old messiah promise. They were expecting a king, and it was high time, too. Rome's boot was heavy and their religious leaders had no real comfort to offer. But the kingdom Jesus proclaimed was almost unrecognizable when held up against the crowd's expectation. This disappointment led the crowd to fickleness, and, less than a week later, they were the ones who called, "crucify!"

Enter our adult Palm Sunday guilt. We know how easily we, too, turn fickle, how readily we lash out.

But let's look at that disappointment. And that awkwardness, too. It comes because we, like the crowds, believe we've heard one promise--comfort, order, safety in the moment--and really, the gift is going to be so much bigger.

Jesus is the fulfillment of God's promises because he is transcendent. There's a word to teach the kids. To be transcendent is, quite literally, to step over and to go beyond. Palm Sunday is one illustration of that eternal moment of going beyond. When Jesus enters Jerusalem, he surpasses every expectation we've had of how God will be present in our lives and in our world.

There is an illustration that shines with transcendence in the children's devotion book Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jago. Often child-friendly art is soft-focused or overly bright and shiny, aiming for easy and friendly rather than compelling and contemplative. Jago's art in this book is neither; instead, it is rich, delightful and full of references to centuries of faith-filled artists. The transcendent illustration is a reworking of a fresco by the Italian Renaissance painter, Piero della Francesca showing the moment of the resurrection. The Risen Christ stands with one foot firmly planted on his tomb as if he is stepping over the edge of the grave, going beyond the limits of death to emerge victorious into life everlasting. In Jago's illustration, the edges are blurred as are the faces of the sleeping guards, and your eye is drawn to the openness of the sky and to Christ's living flesh. The accompanying meditation by Sally Lloyd-Jones asks us to reflect on Christ's words from the cross: "It is finished." Lloyd-Jones writes:

"What was finished?

"Jesus was saying: Everything you need to come back home to God, everything you need to be free and happy in God. everything you need to live forever, I've done it all!"

Palm Sunday's awkwardness has its roots in our understandable incomprehension of what that means. Maybe kids are better at not understanding. Maybe that's why their Palm Sunday joy is easier and louder. We feel awkward and can only humbly echo Martin Luther, mumbling that "as little as children know in their mother's womb about their birth, so little do we know about life everlasting."

But we are given glimpses. In every celebration, every ritual of human life, sparks of eternal life shine through. We glimpse lasting joy in our fleeting celebrations. Palm Sunday's parades can feel awkward because we do know what else will happen in Holy Week, but isn't that life, too? In every family celebration, we know that the day will come when we won't all be together. In every seasonal feast, we know that there will be hungry days and lonely days. But just as we know that Good Friday is not the end of Holy Week's story, we know that our hunger and our loneliness will not be the end. We hold the promise of life everlasting. We do not understand it. but we hold it as a gift.


Katie Munnik is a writer, wife and mother to three young children, and lives in Cardiff, Wales. She blogs at The Messy Table every Monday, at Be sure to read her post on Laura Alary's new book, Make Room: A Child's Guide to Lent and Easter.
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Author:Munnik, Katie
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2016
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