Everybody seems to know what Palm Sunday is, even if they don't have much exposure to church. It's the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey.
Why a donkey? Because that's what kings rode on. It was a symbol of authority. (If you can get a donkey to go, you MUST be a King!)
Anyone else see anything sardonically ironic about the fact that Palm Sunday was on April Fool's Day this year? "Yeah! Jesus is here! C'mon in, buddy. Sure! Be our King! It's sooo good to see you. Uhm...PSYCH! Just kidding! Hold still while we nail you."
Anyway, the people went ballistic. They went nutso berzerk. They threw tickertape all over the place like it was John Glenn himself back from orbiting the earth before the Russians did.
Ok, it wasn't tickertape. It was palm branches. But still. You know.
Palm Sunday isn't the big deal, folks. All the fanfare is on the entrance into the city, but the big deal was the previous afternoon. It's mere mob mentality that drove the people ballistic, but it's the power and authority of God that established what the theme of the week would be about.
Jesus establishes his mission and his final stand on Saturday, the day before the entrance. He makes certain that the disciples think he's nuts, but proves that they're willing to follow him even when they can't see how he makes sense. He weeps in solidarity with those whose hearts are breaking. He speaks to the dead man and commands him, "Come forth!" and the dead man obeys. He drives his foot into the ground as if to say, "Here, upon death itself, I make my final stand!"
The announcement of the resurrection happens over a full week before his own. Any victory the enemy can accomplish during this week is Pyrrhic at best, ultimately futile. The end of Death is certified, or at least announced and prefigured. Its reign is short-lived. No obstacle can stop him now, and any obstacle that tries will shortly be eradicated.
Yet a week, and Death will be made a doorway, the mode by which reunification with God is made possible. As everything King Midas touched turns to gold, so everything which God experiences is made holy. Thus, because of his own death, God will convert death into an act of life.
The process begins with a powerful whisper, "Lazarus, come forth!" in which I imagine one could have heard a pin drop amongst the astonished onlookers, or at least the collective thud of their jaws hitting the Bethany sand. It continues the next day with the crescendo of a mob which has no clue what it is saying. It develops into a final challenge against hypocrisy and politicized religion, culminating in an act of misguided betrayal. And it will end with the loudest quiet the world has ever heard, in which an empty tomb will explode with silence, the only message Death can any longer give.
Death will be vanquished, for us and because of us, for us because it is a gift to restore us to God's presence, because of us since it is our own misbehavior which prompted the necessity of this act. Our response is therefore two-fold: absolute rejoicing, and absolute humility. We are both the mob AND Lazarus, both poised to be raised, and poised to act zealously without forethought.
We look forward to celebrating powerfully in quiet at midnight on Saturday, before the chorus of rejoicing erupts. This week, we recognize Lazarus' resurrection, anticipate Christ's, and long for our own.
More on the tradition of St. Lazarus can be found in the form of some notes by Fr. Demetrios Serfes at http://www.serfes.org/lives/stlazarus.htm. I really had no idea that my father spent a year or two living this close to the relics of this saint. He never mentioned it to me.