Palm Sunday & Good Friday: A Reflection on Pastoral Ministry
At face value, Palm Sunday and Good Friday have little in common. Sure, they are both part of Holy Week and the culmination of the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. They are also part of the culmination of the Gospel story.
Otherwise, they do not seem to have much in common. One is a celebration and a time of joy; one is a moment of grief and darkness. We love Palm Sunday, but we hate Good Friday. We do not even like the name and our only reason to tolerate Good Friday is because we know that Easter Sunday is coming.
What many do not realize is that the crowd on Palm Sunday and Good Friday are likely composed of many of the same people. It’s a stunning revelation of a turn of events. One day, the people celebrate and worship Jesus. They rejoice at his presence and honor him. Just days later, they scorn him. They demand for his crucifixion.
It’s also the perfect imagery for pastoral ministry in the United States today. It is the perfect picture of professional, paid church work.
Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!
Hooray a new pastor has arrived!
Everyone welcomes a new pastor with great joy (at least most everyone). It is a season of joy, of hope. It is a season of welcome, appreciation and kindness. Pastors refer to this season as the honeymoon. Like most marital honeymoons, it seems perfect but goes very quickly.
Then something happens. Months or years later, things seem to have changed. The same people who rejoiced in the new pastor seem to be their worst critic. Harsh treatment of the pastor and their family soon follow.
So what happens?
We can find some of the answers in Holy Week.
Jesus was loved when he did what the people wanted him to do. Then he started challenging people. First his disciples, then the crowds. He ignored politicians and skewered the religious. Rightly so.
The honeymoon period in any church is a great season, but it does not last long.
Eventually you challenge people.
Eventually you make changes.
Eventually you have to say no.
Eventually you stop catering to consumers.
Eventually, people figure out that you are not the savior.
Eventually, like Jesus, you afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.
Eventually, you reach the ‘wrong kind of people.’
Most pastors and ministry staff know what comes next.
Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!
Time for the pastor to go!
Then it’s all over. What comes next is deep hurt and pain for the pastor, the church and the people. Pastors wonder if it is even worth the cost to them and their families.
It turns out that no pastor is Jesus. In fact, only Jesus is Jesus!
Most recent studies suggest that about half (that is 50%) of pastors in the United States are seriously considering leaving ministry. Ministry is harder than it has ever been.
Beyond that, who wants to volunteer to be crucified anyway?
Be kind to your pastors.
Remember that they are not the Christ.
Remember that it is not about you.
Remember that pastors are people too.
Rev. Dr. Marcus J. Carlson, Executive Director