Isaiah 50:4-9a Psalm 31:9-16 Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 22:14-23:56 Liturgy of the Palms - Luke 19:28-40
This Sunday is a challenging one. We begin with the wonderful celebration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. While we still have the hosanna’s echoing in our ears, we hear Luke’s Passion narrative. Now the hosanna’s are drowned out by “Crucify him, crucify him!” What a roller coaster ride. But isn’t life that way?
We may have a loved one who is very ill and then gets well, we may worry and fret about a situation with a child and then it is resolves, we may hold bad feelings against someone, and then as time passes, we forgive and embrace them. Our days are filled with the ups and downs, the twists and turns, the sin, repentance, forgiveness and redemption of life.
As the evenings have gotten chilly lately, Zebi has changed her behavior. When I get up in the middle of the night as nature calls, she moves into the space I left. I don’t know if it is the warmth, the smell or just to aggravate me. But, I started thinking, what do I do with the space that is made available to me. You may recall my saying that one of the first messages I got during Centering Prayer was, “I will fill the space that you make for me.” So, what am I doing with that space – studying God’s word, sleeping later in the morning, reading more devotional materials, reading more murder mysteries? What is my plan for Holy Week, now that all the bulletins are almost done?
In these readings, we can feel the tone of the service as it shifts. Jesus enters Jerusalem – Jesus the Messiah is proclaimed for all the world to hear. This event relates one of the wildest and most politically explosive acts of Jesus’ ministry. It is a reminder of the political challenge of Jesus’ ministry, as well as the political character of Christian praise.
Holy Week, the seven days before the feast of Easter, from Palm Sunday morning to Holy Saturday night and the Easter Vigil is charged with meaning. It is a microcosm of Jesus’ public life. All of its components are there – the population at large, the temple priests and their concerns about beliefs and teachings recognized by the church, the prophetic words of Jesus and the political concerns of Roman officials about the possibility of unrest. They were concerned about the arrest and isolation of Jesus and the fears and confusion of His followers. Condensed into one week, all these elements in the life of Jesus are laid bare for all to see. It is a dark week, a week heavy with the intensity of the drama among us.
But it is also a week of two distinct parts. Palm Sunday - also called Passion Sunday, when we hear the full reading of the Passion narratives in the Scriptures – provides the framework for the week. It reminds us that at
the moment of what seems to be the height of Jesus’ public ministry also begins the process of His public betrayal, His public failure, His public abandonment. It seems that only in the mind of God is Jesus any longer a success. On Palm Sunday, we are forced to remember the distance between public success and personal commitment. Jesus stays the course to the end, and so must we, despite all the pressures, both internal and social, that pull us away. Here in the Passion narrative, just presented to us, we trace the struggle, one scene at a time, between the Word of God and the ways of the world.
We see all the forces of evil collude and collide. We watch as Jesus, caught in the grip of religious and political agendas, goes on speaking out, doing good, regardless. No political spin here. Then, in the first part of the week – Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday – we get a glimpse into what will happen as a result. Jesus will die, yes, but there is more than death to come.
All in all, it is a week that brings us face-to-face with the great question, why must this happen? What is all this suffering about? But deep down inside of us, we already know what the life of Jesus and these first days of Holy Week confirm: there are some things worth living for, even if we find ourselves having to die for them as well.
We suffer things we would rather not undergo because we realize that if we fail to endure them, we can never achieve what we want most in life. People struggle for days to stay afloat after a shipwreck, because they have families at home who depend on them. Firefighters brave injury and death to save their cities. On the nightly news, we see it day after day- those struggling to defend Ukrainian cities and their homes. To be able to see a worthy relationship between the suffering we face and the fulfillment of the human vision is to be able to bear almost unimaginable amounts of suffering. Seeing the larger picture of our learning and growing in our understanding of who God is for us validates the actions. Jesus knew the whole story, and so do we after so many years of hearing it read in church. We hear it, but this week we live it. We live it moment by moment with Jesus, the disciples, his family, his followers.
It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most sacred week of the Jewish year. In the centuries since, Christians have celebrated this day, Palm Sunday, as the first day of Holy Week. With its climax of Good Friday and Easter, it is the most sacred week of the Christian year.
As we return to the story of Jesus’ procession entering Jerusalem, we are struck by the simplicity. Though the story is familiar to us, there are
many surprises. Jesus planned it in advance. As Jesus approaches the city from Bethany, he tells two of his disciples to go to the next village and get him a colt, a young one, never ridden before. Jesus rides the colt into the city surrounded by a crowd of enthusiastic followers and sympathizers, who spread their cloaks and leafy palm branches on the road. We can imagine the excitement in the crowd, the pushing and shoving to be closest to the road, closest to Jesus. Though much simpler than the military procession, it is rich with promise. “Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
Then the shift happens. Pity the disciples because the whirlwind has come upon them and they can’t see it for what it is. They remain a few steps behind Jesus throughout this longest and hardest week. By the time they finally catch up, it is too late.
We know this story well. We can name the characters and even recite some of their lines. We can anticipate what happens next. It’s all so familiar. Yet, the story has not lost its sting. The retelling hasn’t lessened its power to stir our emotions and cause us pain. We take comfort from what comes later. But here and now, on this Passion Sunday, the first day of Holy Week, we look and listen. We remember as if we were there.
In a way, we are. We are modern disciples and we can recognize ourselves among those in the company of Jesus on that longest and hardest night. We recognize our own weakness, our foolishness, our cluelessness, our failure and our denial. We recognize the disciples’ deep desire to be faithful to Jesus along with their inability to know what that really means. We see ourselves in them.
That recognition is a gift – a painful gift, but a gift. It assures us that Jesus does not expect perfection from his followers. Jesus takes us as we are – fumbling, failing, clumsy, well-intentioned, trying to get it right this time. We recognize ourselves in his disciples, including Peter and Judas, because denial and betrayal are familiar to us. In recognizing ourselves as imperfect as we are, we see Jesus more clearly.
Jesus knows exactly what Judas will do. He knows exactly what Peter will do. Jesus is not surprised to return from his prayer and find the disciples asleep. He isn’t shocked when one of them tries to battle with his captors. He knows them through his experiences with them and perhaps some divine insight brings other things to light. Jesus knows who is sharing that last meal with him – just as Jesus knows us in all of our humanity. And still, he gives himself into the hands of God as he makes his way toward the
cross. This week, we are following along – loving, listening, weeping and rejoicing. This week lays its claim on our hearts and on our lives. Jesus lives - so we can live. Amen.