For years, when I thought of Palm Sunday, I envisioned Jesus riding into Jerusalem with fanfare, celebration, and glory. The people throw flowers and lay down palms in front of his donkey. Some even throw their tunics on the ground. Their anticipation signals the procession of a king, of one who is coming in the name of the Lord to save Israel.
The crowd, however, fails to understand that the mission of Jesus points to a deeper revelation of God. Consequently, things turn quickly on Jesus. He rides into the capital with a “reputation” that sadly, withers away like grass for it hinges on the deceit and vanity of the people. His followers, witnesses of healings, miracles, and acts of mercy, abandon him quickly. They ignore him. They deny him. They betray him by week’s end. They fail to understand Jesus is doing the will of the Father and not the will of the people.
Now I realize Jesus rides into Jerusalem on that initial Palm Sunday with glory born out of humanity’s impression of reputation. Unbeknownst them, Jesus cares nothing about his reputation. He cares about one reality: God’s will.
Jesus performs the will of God and glorifies God. Jesus as of yet was not gloried. He understood through the will of God he would first suffer pain and death before entering into glory. His followers up to that point revel in Jesus’ reputation as a prophet and a healer. Unfortunately, they set their sights on earthly things not salvation. They honor and give glory to a king who they believe will bring about an uprising against the Romans. However, God’s plan differed.
I juxtapose this image of Palm Sunday with what most often comes to mind now, an image of Palm Sunday I experienced in Haiti in the aftermath of the great earthquake of 2010. Our school visited St. Marc’s School in Cerca, Haiti, which sits high in the mountains of the Central Plateau. St. Marc’s serves a remote community where neither plumbing nor electricity exist. Life was primitive. However, what the people lacked in resources they made up in faith.
We travelled to Haiti with the intention of providing for our neighbors in Cerca. In our conceit, we offered answers without knowing the questions.
We spoke of promises.
We spoke of what we would do.
We spoke of how we would do it.
We felt proud of ourselves.
We even felt superior.
We took pictures for PR purposes. We were in a celebratory mood. We imagined how this would build on the reputation and glory of our school’s long history. I personally was flying high until Pere Jeannot, an Episcopal priest, reminded us to pray to God. He prayed from the heart. He prayed that our work together would glorify God’s Holy Name.
I fell back to earth and landed with a thud. I thought my goodness, in all of this work to establish a partnership, I neglected to remember that it was not my work but God’s work. Not my reputation but God’s glory that was at stake. I knew I had missed the mark. I failed to use our time in Haiti to glorify God. This is God’s kingdom—not some empire where the few manage the wealth and benefit from the profits. Palm Sunday woke me up to the reality that I suffer all the foibles of the human condition, and I live into the hope of redemption that Christ was delivering to all people as he rode into Jerusalem.
We departed Cerca and headed down the mountain with a renewed commitment to work with our new neighbors by listening to them explain to us what their needs were. They taught. We learned. They talked. We listened. They reminded us that everything we do must glorify God. We reached the base of the mountain, said our goodbyes, and promised to return in a few months.
Our group headed to Port-Au-Prince to prepare for our departure, however, before leaving we attended a Palm Sunday service at the Cathedral. We walked under the tarp and founds seats on the wooden benches. I sat waiting for the service to begin, examining the mounds of bricks and cinder blocks, the debris of discarded shoes, clothing, bottles, and other items—all where the Episcopal Cathedral stood before the earthquake. I saw a puddle, and in the reflection of the murky water, I saw children and adults outside the tarp waving palms ready to receive Christ and glorify God without any thought to their own reputation or deceit. On that Palm Sunday, as they welcomed Christ into their hearts and glorified God, I learned to do the same and so much more.