I finally got it. At least, I think I did.
Palm Sunday has always been a strange memorial for me. When I was younger Palm Sunday was described as a commemoration of the fact that the people who hailed Jesus as a king on Sunday were the same ones who put him to death six days later. The lesson highlighted humanity’s hypocrisy and fickleness, characterizing us as easily swayed and ultimately disloyal.
That idea never sat well with me. Even as I admitted that this dynamic was too often true for me and people I knew, it certainly didn’t seem worth celebrating year in and year out. “Yay! We’re hypocrites! Whoopee!” Such an interpretation added nothing to my understanding or appreciation of the Passion story and Christ’s redemption of us.
This year, I was finally able to put Palm Sunday in a different context. My morning devotional booklet had a scripture reading that I had never heard read before:
“Who is this glorious in apparel, striding in the greatness of his strength? ‘It is I, I who announce vindication, mighty to save. . . . For a day of vindication was in my heart, my year for redeeming had come.’” (Isaiah 63: 1-4)
This reading helped me see a different reason for Palm Sunday. It’s a reason that has less to do with us, and everything to do with Jesus. And it’s also extremely relevant for many LGBTQ people’s experiences.
The Isaiah reading showed me that Palm Sunday needs to be celebrated because it marks a beginning. And like most beginnings, it’s a joyful time. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Jesus’ greatest salvific action. It’s the opening to his great drama that will liberate humanity from sin and death. The fact that the crowd will eventually turn on him is less important than the fact that Jesus is announcing that a new chapter of his teaching is beginning. Instead of being viewed as hypocrites and traitors, I think the crowd can be regarded as people authentically and eagerly celebrating the idea that Jesus has arrived to save us—even though they have no idea of the intensity of the suffering and sacrifice that the salvific process will entail. On Palm Sunday, they probably think that salvation has already arrived and that every day is going to be as joyful as this one.
I think that LGBTQ people know the Palm Sunday dynamic very well through their coming out experiences. The moment when one comes to full acknowledgement, acceptance, affirmation, and ability to share one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity is usually an exhilarating and dizzying moment. It is a personal high that many people feel, feeling that they have been liberated from self-hatred and from the negative opinions of others.
But coming out does not end with this time of celebration. Coming out is a process that proceeds from this point and often involves some very intense suffering and sacrifice. Of course, these painful moments are not the end point either. People generally emerge from these painful times stronger and feeling a new, vibrant outlook on life. A resurrection, as it were.
And this pattern is not a one-time experience. It repeats itself often throughout a person’s life. Many LGBTQ people in their senior years who came out when they were young adults tell me that they still undergo this coming out pattern, as new people, situations, and experiences present themselves. And people get stronger and stronger with each passing occurrence.
So, here in the beginning of Holy Week, let’s praise God for providing us with Jesus as our savior and liberator. Let us give thanks and humbly bow down in front of the realization that God enters our life to triumph. We need moments like this to get us through the more difficult challenges that will inevitably and continually enter our lives. We need moments like this to point us towards the hope of resurrection.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 6, 2020