The struggle to comprehend God’s rescue plan for the world
By Rebecca Crow Lister
Palm Sunday is one of the most festive days in the church year. In my own church, we waved our palms joyously. We belted out “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” as our organist pulled out all the stops. We even had a real live donkey walk up the center aisle during the children’s sermon. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the end of Lent and turns our eyes toward Jerusalem and the cross. It is a day that is an unbridled celebration, but that is tinged with the sorrow soon to come.
During coffee hour between services and Sunday School, I joined several others sitting at a craft table set up in our gathering area. On the table were several palm leaves and instructions on how to fold them into a cross. Curious, I decided to try my hand at it. I will confess, I know that one of my many limitations is reading and following instructions to perform tasks. I have an extremely difficult time reading the steps and trying to imagine what the end product will look like, and this palm folding thing was no different.
No matter how many times I read the instructions and stared at the accompanying pictures, I could not envision the outcome in my head. Several of my friends around the table were also struggling, and we tried to help each other, but with little success. Finally, our youth director sat down and said, “Let me show you.” Slowly, painstaking step by painstaking step, he showed us what to do. Even then, I still had trouble watching him, then trying to imitate what he had done.
It reminded me of the scripture reading I heard earlier in the Palm Sunday service from Luke 22. Jesus had just finished serving the Last Supper to his disciples and was explaining that someone in their midst would betray him. Astonished, they talk among themselves wondering who it could be. The conversation then turns into a dispute over who is the greatest of the group.
Picture it: Jesus has just now told them he will be betrayed and has hinted at his future death, and what are the disciples talking about? Not about comforting Jesus; not about formulating a plan on what to do in the next few hours and days; not praying for strength and perseverance…no, they are talking about who among the twelve were the stars, were worthy of the most honor. I cringe when I think of this. How self-centered, selfish and self-aggrandizing can you be? As usual, Jesus sets the disciples straight, firmly but reasonably:
But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
The disciples seem to get all of Jesus’s teachings and lessons hopelessly wrong, and of course they do: they cannot imagine what is to come. They are seeing the situation with their earthly, human, temporal eyes, rather than the heavenly, holy, eternal eyes of Jesus.
Even though Jesus slowly and clearly spells out his mission and God’s kingdom to them, the disciples don’t get it. They see the signs. They have an inkling that Jesus’s life is a culmination of Old Testament scriptures and prophecies; but they can’t grasp the complete picture of God’s rescue plan. The disciples can’t envision what the finished product will look like.
I felt the same way, trying to fold, bend and weave my palm cross. I tried so hard to follow the written instructions and to watch and listen to our youth director, but my palm cross never quite turned out as I expected. Its arms were lopsided and the tie across the center was cock-eyed. “Don’t worry,” smiled our youth director, “Imperfections are part of the process. They aren’t supposed to look perfect.”
In truth, our crosses can never be as perfect as Jesus’ cross. All we can do is accept the invitation to deny ourselves, and to take up our own imperfectly made crosses and follow him.
Rebecca Lister is an associate professor of music at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania. Her passion is music and worship in churches. She is a student in the on-line program of University of Dubuque Theological Seminary and is an inquirer in the Carlisle Presbytery.