For a number of years our church has had a pastoral internship program designed for intensive discipleship training and character formation. From time to time, our interns are asked: “Is your church a cult?” We laugh about this, but the concern is understandable, especially given the society we live in.
Eight years ago, shortly before Palm Sunday, our eight-year-old son was under the weather. My husband, Lou, had volunteered to cover the doctor’s appointment and a trip to the drugstore for whatever prescription would clear up Calvin’s little infection. “Go to the gym,” he said. “You need to relieve some stress.”
When I was a child, I loved Palm Sunday because we got to act out the biblical version of a ticker-tape parade. Later I learned of the ephemeral quality of stardom and parades and decided that Palm Sunday and Passion Week belong together. As a pastor, I have accepted the dismal fact that most of our people skip Thursday, Friday and Saturday, slipping from parade pandemonium to Easter ecstasy with none of the suffering and pain.
Palm Sunday is a big deal in the church I serve. As the congregation sings “All Glory, Laud and Honor,” the children—from infants in parents’ arms to wiggly six-year-olds to uncomfortable adolescents—parade down the center aisle and fill the chancel, waving palms. It’s a reminder that there are more children and families living in the center city than you might expect.
If, as John’s Gospel suggests, Jesus went regularly to the annual festivals of his people in Jerusalem, what was so different that last time that it resulted in his execution? If, as Mark’s Gospel suggests, he only went there once, why did he do it then?
In Elisabeth Sifton’s The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War, the author describes how Reinhold Niebuhr, her father, moved away from the pacifism that prevailed among mainline religious leaders in the years after World War I.