Why do we celebrate Palm Sunday?



Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9,17-20,23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).

Why do we celebrate Palm Sunday?

On Palm Sunday, we follow our Lord to the foot of the Cross and find ourselves standing on the edges of darkness — the darkness of the Crucifixion. It is a darkness so deep that even nature cries out in a kind of convulsive protest. It is a darkness so deep that the Man who lived closer to God than anyone else who ever lived, the Man who loved God more than any other man who ever lived, this Man at this moment cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”: Why have You abandoned Me? Why have You left Me? How do we explain this word of anguish, this word of desolation, from that someone who loved God so intensely? This is the task we have before us if we want to enrich our understanding of the Crucifixion event.

Psalm 22

You may know these words are the first lines of the Twenty-second Psalm which, if read all the way through, ends with an affirmation of faith. In recent times, many persons have learned to gloss over these words of Jesus by saying simply that all He is doing is quoting a Psalm and reaffirming His faith in God. But that’s too easy an answer. Of all the Psalms Jesus might have quoted, why this one? Why these words of utter desolation from the beginning of that Psalm? Why not the words of affirmation at the end? The answer is that this is exactly what He was feeling.

The Love of God

It is important for us to realize, as we try to live our way through the Crucifixion Event, that God was never closer to Jesus than He was at this moment. Never! Jesus is really hurting here. He is suffering deep, deep hurt: physical, emotional, and spiritual. His whole being is racked with pain. And He is crying out to God because this is how He feels. And if you will see this in the context of His whole life and ministry, you will realize that God is loving Jesus at this moment totally.

We talk so much about the love of God in abstract ways. But, at this point in the Crucifixion Story, the Gospel writers are trying to make it real to us. They want us to know that the love of God is present in the depths of our life, where we’re living and breathing and hoping and hurting. Where we need it most, that’s where God is present. This is not a theological premise. It is the most healing, the most hopeful reality in life. God was never closer to Jesus Christ than at the moment He was hurting most.

The Crucifixion

Crucifixion is the acme of the torturer’s art: hours of racking physical pain as you strangle to death. The weight of your body closes off your wind slowly. You also suffer through exposure. Sometimes it took days for a criminal to die this way. Moreover, there was the humiliation of being stripped and hung up in front of the crowds who were there to mock and deride. And, finally, the hurt that Jesus felt so intensely: the pain of being abandoned, forsaken!

Where were those disciples who had said, “We will follow you to the death?” One of them had denied Him three times. The others had all run away, except John, Jesus’ mother, and a few faithful, compassionate women. Jesus looked down and experienced what human nature at its worst can do, and the desperate cry arose out of His deep, deep, deep need: “My God, My God, why?” There is no follow-up with the Psalm’s pious lines of affirmation. It’s “Why?”

God Meets Us Where We Are Hurting Most

On Palm Sunday, many of us are reminded of what it means to hurt and to hurt deeply. Some of us here today are hurting, and we understand that this word from the Cross is for us this day. In some cases, it’s a clear and obvious thing: a physical illness or an emotional illness, or a depression that comes from fatigue. It’s very clear where we’re hurting today to some of us. To others, it is not quite so clear. There are people hurting deeply because they haven’t found themselves yet. They don’t know who they are yet. Not just young people either. Young and old-many people are just lost amid it all. The pressures in today’s living are keeping many of us from discovering just who we are.

Everybody is Somebody

There is a story of a man who was very unhappy to be discharged by his psychiatrist after years of analysis. “You’re cured,” said the doctor. “Some cure!” the man snorted. “When I first came here, I was Napoleon Bonaparte. Now I’m nobody.” There are folks today who really feel they are nobody. And nobody has helped them discover who they are. They understand the feelings of the man who received a birthday gift consisting of a package of plain towels. Inside was a card that said, “We wanted to give you monogrammed towels, but nobody could remember your name.” There are some people who are hurting in that way, and that is a deep, deep hurt: to feel unknown, alone, unimportant, and abandoned.

Perhaps you are hurting because someone you thought loved you has let you down. It may be that you’ve suddenly discovered, after a long relationship, that that person doesn’t know you at all-never knew you well enough to be able to love you. That is hurt that cuts deep.

Matthew 27:46

On Palm Sunday, the Good News from this Word from the Cross and the Good News of the Gospel is that that is where God is loving you most, at this very moment. Right there where you are hurting, where the edges are sore, where you’re feeling bruised, where you’re crying out, “Why? Why?” That’s where God is loving you. He’s never closer to you than He is at that point. That is what this Word is saying to us.

The Presence of God

What is less obvious is the fact that God is loving us most of all, not only where we are hurting (because the need is very great there) but also where we are hoping. The need is very great there too. Think for a moment! From the time of His baptism, Jesus realized that all the promises of God were about to be fulfilled.

He saw it happening in His own life and ministry: the power to heal the sick and the emotionally ill, to feed the crowds, and so on, He said, “Look, the finger of God is healing. This is a sign. It’s here.” And He was caught up in this hope. Then, what happened? He arrived at the point of great need in trying to sustain His hope for the future, His hope in the coming of God’s Kingdom He had preached about. And that is where God was very close to Him, too — confirming His hope, giving Him renewed strength, and opening Him up to the future so that He could see beyond the moment of pain and loneliness. I want to suggest to you that that’s where some of us are in greatest need: at the point of our hope.

God is Making a Difference

As we live our way into this moment on the Cross, this is what should come through to us. The hurting is very deep, and the hope is very weak. But it is precisely at these points of deepest need that God is most truly present. He is here in the depths of this experience. He is identifying with the need: He is breaking into the situation; He is making a difference.

The Good News of Palm Sunday

On this Palm Sunday, we remember that God is never closer to us than He is in those moments when we cry out, “Why? My God, why have You forsaken me? Why have You let me down? My God, my God, why?” Let us pray.

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