For this Palm Sunday, ESN author and classical college professor Brandon Spun offers a meditation in the tradition of Erasmus’s Praise of Folly or G. K. Chesterton’s meditations on the lightheartedness of the saints (See Orthodoxy, “The Eternal Revolution,” 5 paragraphs from the end of chapter). May it increase your joy in celebrating Christ our King!
He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40, ESV)
Palm Sunday clarifies the purpose of Lent. It reminds us that our repentance is ordered toward a God who uses the foolish and weak things of this word to confound it. Viewed through Palm Sunday, Lent serves as preparation for an encounter with folly.
It may be helpful then to explore the meaning of folly. My students will tell you that I am indeed the man for this job!
There are two sorts of fools. One is consumed by a superficial gravity. He may or may not bear signs of worldly success, but he has bought into the urgency of his life and his work. In the slow process of dying, he is the man of whom Sir Walter Scott speaks in the Lay of the last Minstrel:
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonor’d, and unsung.[i]
How often do we in the academy find ourselves caught up in just this sort of folly? How often in our own lives does the impersonal seem to triumph over love? The seriousness of worldly affairs threatens to obscure, even to extinguish the unique character of Christian life. If the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? (Matt 5:13)
Yet, there is another sort of fool who is of the Shakespearian spirit. This fool is alive to and in love with life, playful, yet not averse to gravity. It is this fool which Lent seeks to reclaim in us because it is he who knows how to celebrate the triumphal entry of Christ on Palm Sunday.
Though the cares of the world crowd about him, such a fool will, now and again, sweep them aside to attend to his true business of love and worship. In him, a sacred center yet stands.
The fool for Christ can celebrate because his existential center of gravity is no longer fixed in this world. It has been secreted off to a far country, in which Love alone is Lord.
Remembering the Right sort of Folly
Without the right sort of folly, every task we set our hand to becomes an exercise in a secondary and damning righteousness, one which ever falls short of mercy and compassion (Matt 5:20; Luke 6:38). Worldly gravity, of necessity, attends to the business of life having forgotten the one thing needful (Luke 10:42; Matt. 9:13; 1 Cor 13).
This is why the specific Christian character of Lent is so important. When repentance aims only at moral purity, when repentance seeks to earn forgiveness, or worse to place one beyond the need for it, Lent becomes a journey deeper into the self, rather than a journey unto God.
Palm Sunday reminds us that we have not yet arrived at a true Christian conception of righteousness until there is something in it which possess the folly of love (Matt 5:20, 6:16; Luke 6:27-38; John 3:16, 2 Sam. 6:14). It reminds us that we repent not unto forgiveness, but in light of it.
The practices of Lent are geared toward something much bigger than the gravity of ethical praxis. Indeed, Lent is often a good time to repent of our narrow religion of the self.
Palm Sunday helps us remember that all ethics, all projects, all renewal, if it is truly Christian is marked preeminently by the personal, by the presence of love which now and forevermore bears a human face.
This human face was seen to enter Jerusalem upon a donkey. The King of Kings presented himself as something not unlike the King of Fools. He claims a place in our hearts in no very different manner.
When he makes a heart his throne, he does so by fashioning for himself a seat proper to indomitable love. What kind of seat do you imagine this might be? What might Palm Sunday suggest?
Palm Sunday reminds us that the real business of man is not accomplished by fixing stern faces or laying up heavy burdens, but in crying out with raised hands, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt 21:9)
We are meant to discover at the end of Lent, not the strong man of God, but a face which shines with a welcome we have longed for, a face of one who was and is strong in love alone. Paradoxically, we discover in that face, in the welcome of God, something even more terrible than the cross. We discover a love which would cause even the stones to cry out.
It is only in light of such love that our lives come to possess some share in that righteousness which exceeds that of the Pharisees. Only then do we begin to attain to the freedom and folly of divine love.
- How is the folly of praise connected to Lenten repentance?
- Who or what situation in your life could use the presence of foolish love?
- If we bear his yolk, what sort of beasts of burden are we?
- Can you think of fools in history or literature who might be signs of the Kingdom?
Praise him sun and moon; praise him heights and depths; praise him foolish academics; praise him busy students; praise him all ye burdened by the seriousness of the world. Though we be hypocritical, O Lord, we trust that you shall accept and perfect our praise. Teach us again to love your love and to spend ourselves in knowing and sharing that love.
This Palm Sunday and Easter, may we find that you have vouchsafed for us a spirit of joy and praise, and in light of this mysterious gift, may we worship you, our forerunner, our Author, our finisher, our King.
[i] “The Lay of the Last Minstrel.” Poets’ Corner – Sir Walter Scott – The Lay of the Last Minstrel – Canto VI. Accessed March 07, 2017. http://www.theotherpages.org/poems/canto06.html
Image credit: Entry into Jerusalem, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55433 [retrieved April 8, 2017]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Entry_into_Jerusalem_-_Google_Art_Project_(6834070).jpg.