March 24, 2024 Sermon

Palm Sunday

            During Holy Week we walk with Jesus along the way of the cross. We start his last week in mortal life with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, all the way to the last supper with the apostles and then his trial and crucifixion.

            Palm Sunday, then, is experienced as whiplash. We start with a lovely little procession, singing praise to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, and then that festive sense fades rapidly as we get to the Passion Narrative, reading the story of Jesus’ betrayal, trial, and his execution. Palm Sunday is the entirety of Holy Week in miniature, compressed tightly into a liturgical diamond.

            We aren’t walking the way of the cross literally. We’re not re-enacting it. Yes, while it’d be fun to have a donkey in the procession as we sing, but we’re not really re-enacting the entry into Jerusalem. No one’s “borrowing” a donkey from someone for Jesus to ride.

            And the foot washing at the last supper – we’re not re-enacting it. We don’t have one person washing everyone’s feet anymore. We’re not putting the ordained, or the “important” people in the place of Jesus. No, we’re washing each other’s feet as a sign of loving service in imitation of Jesus. Each of us have that call to love and serve, to be loved and to be served.

            And the trial and crucifixion – we do not nail someone to a cross, and we do not compete for the bloodiest, goriest vision of the crucifixion, either. The crucifixion is not a spectacle – that’s what the Romans wanted from the crucifixion. They wanted people to see a crucified body and remember that this is what happens to people who oppose the Roman Empire. Rome had the power to crucify you, and they wanted you to remember that every single day of your life.

            But as we follow Jesus this week, we remember something incredibly different: a love stronger than death, a love stronger than betrayal and rejection, a love poured out for you and me and all of creation.

            Holy Week is not a literal walking of the way of the cross as if we could ever re-create it to the smallest detail. Holy Week is a liturgical walking of the way of the cross in remembrance of the life and death of Christ. Holy Week is a giant prayer in remembrance of Christ.

            Palm Sunday, the Sunday of the Passion compresses all of Holy Week for us. Here it is in miniature: This is the story we are sitting with for the week ahead. We triumphantly process with palms waving, and then we turn and betray Christ and denounce him to Rome. We take on all the roles. No one is off the hook. And no one is condemned to be the villain alone, either. We bear the burden of the whole story together.

            And on Wednesday, Tenebrae, we sit in increasing darkness. We know how the story goes, we know how the story ends. Tenebrae gives us prayers and Scripture and wisdom to set the tone for the days to come.

            Maundy Thursday, we gather. At first it would feel like a normal Eucharist, kind of like how the Last Supper would have felt like a normal meal. But then Jesus kneels down and washes the feet of the disciples gathered. He takes on the role of a servant, a slave, in loving service. So we interrupt our Eucharistic rhythm and wash one another’s feet. In years past I disliked the footwashing, it felt off. But I think now I get it a little. The weirdness of it, the humanity of it is brought to the center. Do you love? Do you let yourself be loved? And then we return to Eucharist – which we do in remembrance of Christ, Sunday after Sunday. As Christ commands us on Maundy Thursday: “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

            And Good Friday – we tell the story again of Christ’s crucifixion. And what do we do? Do we wail and bemoan our sins and wickedness? No. Ash Wednesday focuses on repentance; Good Friday does not. (But, side note, if you want to make a private confession on Good Friday, let me know). Good Friday’s heart is praying for the world. The Solemn Collects of Good Friday pray for the whole world. The theological heart of Good Friday is that Christ so loved the whole world, that he would offer himself to be one of us and to live and die for us … and so we pray for the whole world. It is as if Christ commanded us, “Behold, I love the entirety of creation so much and so perfectly that I offer my life and death to heal you, to set you free, to sanctify you.” And so we pray that all creation may be healed, set free, and sanctified.

            This Holy Week we will include something a little different on Good Friday evening. Instead of repeating the liturgy of Good Friday’s noon service, we will sit at Jesus’ tomb together. We don’t often do that. I get our hesitation: we know about the resurrection. But we need to sit at the tomb anyway. We need to sit with mourning because mourning is something so profoundly holy that humans are not the only ones who mourn. Animals mourn, at least. We know animals can have broken hearts. I’ve seen it. Mourning and mortality are not reserved for us alone – creation shares in it with us. We proclaim our own mortality on Ash Wednesday – can we sit with one another’s mortality on the evening of Good Friday? Can we join Mary the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, and Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea at the tomb?

            And then, then finally the joy of Easter Vigil. Walking in darkness, knowing the great news that is to come, sharing not just the story of Jesus but the story of the whole creation’s redemption and salvation. It is good news for all creation!

            We walk this together as one large prayer. Just as in the Eucharist we lift up the bread and share it in remembrance of Jesus, and we lift up the cup of wine and drink it in remembrance of Jesus, so we walk the way of the cross in Holy Week in a prayer of remembrance of Jesus. We remember, we remember his love, we remember his love is everlasting.

 Let us pray.

      Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.