Apr. 14, 2019 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Apr 14, 2019 in Holy Week, Sermons

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

April 14, 2019

During the course of our rainy work party yesterday I thought about the pre-procession of coming to church this morning. Approaching Darst you see our sign beckoning, the lovely woods, then the strong and elegant face of our building comes into view, standing tall, surrounded by all manner of things leafing out — many newly planted. You turn into the parking lot and for the first Palm Sunday ever, you don’t steer around the potholes filled with rainwater! If you’ve joined St. Michael’s more recently you wouldn’t know that there was once a bumpy incongruence between our beautiful sacred space here and a gravel lot with seriously challenging holes, eroding faster than we could patch them. We prepared the way for our Palm procession today by cleaning the building, weeding, pruning, and planting, and yes – even by paving our parking lot to complete the sense of safe and gracious welcome that undergirds our “Hosanna!” song this day.

So this morning’s procession began before you entered the building, and then our choral procession with palms and icon dramatically thrust us into Holy Week, reminding us of the energetic hope and joy this day must have held that first time. This service will soon plunge us into the utter dichotomy of our faith; we began with Hosannas for the triumphant arrival of our Lord, and then, after we pray our way through the breaking of bread and sharing of the cup which celebrates our Lord’s last supper, we will read his Passion. The word means ‘suffering’ and in this ‘Passion Gospel’ we recall the darkest hours of all time. We will journey that path too.

Coming to worship lets us step off the busy escalator or highway of the ordinary and step away, stepping onto this extraordinary path with our Lord. On this path we glimpse the hoped-for world we pray for, we allow ourselves to see the transformation of hatred into love, of darkness to light, and death into new life. We begin by processing in here each week by our own choice, without relying on iPhones or GPS to tell us just what turns our faith life will take and where we’ll go along our way, since here we learn and explore with Christ leading and lighting our path. In worship we get to be witnesses and participants in that community of beloved disciples. You will be led to reflect on our spiritual journey while I am away on sabbatical, as will I.

So, we are about destiny and transformation on this holy Palm Sunday, and our procession helps ready ourselves for Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, and into our hearts. We say,“Hosanna!” —it means Save us!, so we have placed ourselves into this story, walking in remembrance of a long ago triumphant day, one filled with anticipation and perhaps fear of what would happen and how far things would go. The gospels say they threw their cloaks and garments on the colt, and then even laid their clothes and palm branches on the road for him. They softened his path, quieted the dust, made it festive, beautiful, royal even. Imagine that colorful lush path, the feeling of honor that his colt’s hooves touched your cloak, that his garments swept along the branch you laid down. Think what an odd act that is, to throw one’s garments on the dusty road for a colt and rider to trample on! Would it be damaged, ruined? Would someone grab yours up and take it away by mistake? A cloak was a pretty costly possession, and they willingly threw these down to be literally ‘throwing in’ with him. This was an act which also outed them as Jesus-sympathizers if not fully disciples of the controversial rabbi. They did it to honor and usher him in. We repeat that today because this scene from scripture is not trivial. We trouble ourselves to retell the story and bring it to three-dimensional life because we need to be there ourselves. Hosanna! Save us! we rightly say, as  we move from weeks of Lenten preparation to Holy Week participation. Carrying palms we re-create our spiritual entry into the story of our faith.

Look at your clothes today, recall the last outer garment you wore; would you throw that suit jacket or hoodie or soft sweater down on a road to show you’re all in?! (I know, we’re far too polite for that!) What would you give of yourself to light up that path with color and softness and show nothing is more valuable to carry about than to spread out before him as an offering of yourself. Is there something you’ve wrestled with this Lent which makes a meaningful offering, a symbolic garment or branch you would use to welcome our Lord into the holy city of your own heart? To say to him Hosanna! Save us! For your saving presence I’ll follow you, Lord! That’s what we do. Take your palms home and place them near things you consider important. Would you lay them down to honor him as he draws close? Today we are asked to be ‘all in’ with him on that joyous road, ready to follow even when his time in Jerusalem turns dark and fills with suffering. We might feel naked without our emotional cloaks of security, the carapace of individualism and self-protection, or our carefully curated plumage. Laying down something of ourselves and being willing to be known as his friends will cost us dearly, yet unlike those first disciples, we know it will be worth it when the tomb is opened and found empty.

Jesus processed into Jerusalem knowing he would not be leaving the same way. The story unfolds all week, traveling down the path with him. It demands our courage and our vulnerability—necessary ingredients of the transformation that this sacred time is all about. Wednesday we’ll tell the story with our children, they’ll wash the altar, hear how it is symbolic of the stone in the cave Jesus’ body was laid on, and how it is also our supper table as we honor him in the Eucharistic feast. Thursday, Maundy Thursday, we’ll tell the story of his washing their feet and commanding us to do likewise for each other. What makes us think this was an optional command? We’ll share the last supper together and leave the church in darkness, only to find a deeper spiritual darkness on Good Friday. We’ll tell the story of final journey to his death, we’ll pray for the whole of this broken world, and in the end we will each come to touch the cross itself—rough heavy beams hewn from trees right here, reminding us that all this is real. Easter Eve’s vigil is begins in the spark of new light, telling stories which point us from creation all the way to that first Easter morning—but you can’t truly get there from here without going the whole way down and back up.

Imagine Holy Week like diving in and then rising up out of the lake or pool, breaking the surface going in and coming out, emerging wet and gasping a bit. Dripping off as you wrap in your towel, pausing to see sun glinting off still rippling waters. Skipping from Palm Sunday to Easter is like seeing a faded postcard of it. You can’t get the same thing taking an Instagram picture of Easter from your car window, no matter how clever the caption. Processing in today, your feet moving, your lips singing, your hands waving those palms, was you stepping in, walking with our Lord, daring to go with him into the Jerusalem of your spirit.

Every year a few more people make it a practice to attend all of the services of this week, (and I’m not trying to be all ‘priestly-religious-zealot’ here), but each of those people will tell you it changed their faith life. Those are the words people use. It transformed my faith. It converted my understanding of the whole of Easter. My faith was grown and deepened. Something happened to those participants that day too; “the whole multitude of disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice…, saying, ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’ …Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” That powerful act of hope and joy stood out, it mattered even though they soon turned on him, abandoned him. They felt it so keenly that even the stones themselves would have shouted it if they were stifled.

Have you ever tried to keep radiant joy to yourself? It doesn’t work. Have you ever tried to hide your faith or silence it because it might seem inappropriate? You can keep your mouth closed, but it still shows in your face, in your life. It’s what the Pharisees hushing them didn’t understand, even if perhaps well-intentioned. Once the spirit of Christ is in you, it is part of you, and cannot ever be entirely silenced!


© The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

View lectionary readings: