I was watching PBS last week when they featured a program about the life of Judy Garland. I learned a lot about her that I did not know. Most of it was about the tragic short life she had (she died at 47). She suffered through many incredibly sad experienced, some of which were visited upon her by the movie industry who wanted to make millions of dollars off of her talents. They forced her to have an illegal abortion when she found herself pregnant at a young age (married the first time) because it did not fit into their plans for her. They give her pills to pep her up so she would work longer and then to put her to sleep for about 4 hours nightly before she would begin again. She was set to start in the movie production of "Annie, Get Your Gun" when she collapsed from exhaustion due to the abuse they put her body through. Finally, when they no longer had need of her, they fired her, telling her she would not work in movies any longer. That did not end her career, though, because she formed her own movie company and produced, "A Star is Born" which seemed to mirror her own life experiences. She worked as a singer and television star until finally she died from a drug overdose at the age of 47, far too young.
Despite her sad life, we will always remember her as a teenager in her most famous role as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz." Her young smiling face is imprinting in our brains and we can seem to her her voice each time we hear the song, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Another movie she made that was not as famous but for which she sang and danced with Fred Astair was "Easter Parade". The title song became one which is played and sung each year at Easter. It is all about people dressing up in their Easter finery and parading down the streets of large cities to show off their clothes. Still today, many people buy new clothes at Easter to look their best for the holiday.
Easter customs are special and are part of why the traditions of Easter continue to exist. Decorating, hiding, and hunting eggs remind us of our own childhood memories. Buying and wearing new clothes make us feel special for that special Sunday. Enjoying a large dinner with family and friends also helps us celebrate that big day.
Palm Sunday begins Holy Week which leads up to Easter. The first Palm Sunday featured a parade also, but not one that would lead to joy and celebration. That parade led to Jesus' death on the cross on Good Friday. People gathered on both sides of the street as Jesus rode on the back of a donkey and the people shouted "Hosanna!" which means "Save us". They wanted to be saved from the cruel domination of the Roman government that occupied their land. Many saw Jesus as a political leader who would arm an insurrection against the Romans despite the fact that he had never held a sword or talked about leading a rebellion. In fact, he had described a kingdom again and again based on love and forgiveness, even of enemies.
Palm Sunday is the event that launched Jesus into the spotlight and created the political mood that would lead to his death. The religious authorities of Jesus' day would not rest until they had him murdered to get him out of their way so they could be fully in charge of their religious institutions. As long as Jesus was living, his followers would always be publicizing the fact that Jesus was very special, so special that they could not live with his being in the spotlight.
So, this Sunday is called Palm Sunday because Jesus' followers waved palm branches, a symbol of rebellion, and shouted "Hosanna!" or "Save us, Jesus!" as Jesus rode in on the back of a small donkey, a very humble scene. They could not understand that the man they saw before them could not bring about any political change because his kingdom was not of this world but was a heavenly one not to be realized in this life.
We will wave the palm branches and say "Hosanna!" this Sunday during our worship service. We will remember Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem as Passover was about to begin. We will leave to continue our own lives during Holy Week perhaps pausing on Thursday to remember Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples. Then comes the end....Good Friday...a day to stop and remember and reflect and prepare for the quiet that leads us to Easter....but that is a story saved for the next week to come.