Sunday, April 9, 2017 – Palm Sunday The Preface to Palm Sunday
Things look a little different today, don’t they? And it’s not just the way we have the chairs set up – or the big box of Palms set out. You might have been expecting that, if you had remembered that it’s Palm Sunday today.
This is the day that we begin our journey through Holy Week. Holy, as in set apart and special… sacred. It starts out feeling special, with the palms and the cheering. We will be cheering and rejoicing with the people of Jerusalem. They are welcoming Jesus into their city… because they have honestly had enough. Oppressed by foreign occupation for too long, brutalized by the Roman Empire for generations, they are overjoyed – this must be the king, the messiah the prophets have promised them. Here’s the thing – that we have always known but tend to forget – people hear what they want to hear. And these people want a king who will come to overthrow this horrific, violent ruler, this Roman leadership. They want a better way; they are desperate for relief. And so they hear the words that Jesus says, and they interpret them to mean something about power and might, earthly power and might. And they welcome Jesus as the one who might save them from Roman rule.
On the other side of town, Pilate is also entering Jerusalem, with all the kingly fanfare and trumpets and horses… you know, the whole shebang.
And Jesus enters here today riding on a donkey. Because he’s not that kind of king, and doesn’t mean to wield that kind of power. Humility and love are very different forms of power. We know that Jesus came to usher in a very different kind of kingdom, but sometimes we too hear what we want to hear. Even now, from the vantage point of history, it’s easy to get caught up in the trappings of power, wealth, and privilege; and the cultural, political and sometimes theological ways we try to rationalize the distance between the ways of the world and the ways of God.
It’s good to take a moment and be reminded again, that Jesus never set out to be an earthly king, that the Kingdom of God is not like any earthly power we know, that our personal righteous judgment is not the consideration by which God measures anyone (not even us). Even in the most difficult moments of his earthly life, Jesus walked a life of humility, love and compassion. A conscious choice at every step along the path to be one who loves and gives of himself, one who serves, one who obeys the will of God, one of peace, one who forgives those who betray him, deny him, even those who crucify him. He embodies God’s love for the world, for you and me, even now. And so this week, we walk these steps with Jesus, to remember.
If you look at the altar area you can see our Holy Week outlined for us as we walk with Jesus and the disciples this last week of his life. (Stage left of the altar) Here we have the bowl and pitcher, the linen robe as Jesus washes the feet of the disciples, and dries them with his own robe.
(See the bread and wine on the altar table) That same night, he gathers them around the table and breaks bread with them, saying, “Take, eat, this is my body that is given for you.” And he offers them the cup of wine, saying, “Drink this all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant shed for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins.” Afterwards they walk to the garden. (The ‘garden’ in the front of the altar.) Jesus’ heart is heavy, knowing that one will betray him, and one will deny him, knowing all that is coming; yet he ends his prayer with the words, “Not my will, Abba, Father, but your will be done.” And he rises to find that none of them has been able to stay awake with him for an hour while he prays. The betrayal – the bag of silver. The sword of the soldiers who come to take him away, the rooster signaling Peter’s denial.
(Stage right of the altar) The gavel of Pilate’s court – there is no justice for God’s own here. For the same people who wave palms and greet him are terrified of Roman retribution. Better to stand and accuse this innocent man than to be seen as part of a plot against a paranoid, power hungry ruler. The purple cloak, the crown of thorns, used to mock Jesus – as if he aspired to royalty. The sign is the same – another indication of the powers of this world misunderstanding the ways of God – as God’s own Son will walk the way to the cross. (Cross – set to the right of altar)
To an execution as a criminal, between criminals. Humiliation and degradation, suffering, then death. Yet he goes willingly. Forgiving them as one of his final acts. And then he dies. On a cross.
Today we walk these steps together, Holy steps. Which feel strange, violent and brutal – but they are Holy none the less. In that the only way to get to Easter morning is down this path. We have to walk these steps, the path to our salvation walks in these footsteps. Love walked these steps for us. So we will walk them together today, in very good company with the people of this community, and those who have walked these steps before us for thousands of years.
Here’s how it will work this year: We will begin with the service of the Palms; we will hear the lessons like a regular service, and after the reading of the Gospel we will bless the palms. Then we will distribute them, and we will wave them and proclaim the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
Then we will move right into the affirmation of faith because we will have already had the sermon piece (this is the sermon), and then everything will feel pretty normal until we get to the time just before communion. That’s when the announcements will happen. And after communion is over, we will begin our reading of the Passion. Once that is over, we will leave the sanctuary – no blessing or dismissal. Our observation of Holy Week will have officially begun, as we observe that love is on the cross… we will leave the sanctuary quietly.