Palm Sunday Year B
Good morning. I need to tell you something.
Today, is strange. It’s stranger than many of the days that have come before. What is strange about it is – and I imagine any of you teaching these days can relate – there are people in here – and there are people out there?
Who do I direct this sermon to? I’ll try to do both. You and I are getting used to trying many things for the first time these days aren’t we?
Today is strange because usually we do Palm Sunday outside – outside for the blessing of the palms and the shouting of Hosannas – and then process in (to that magnificent hymn) after a bang on the door. We follow the acolytes – don’t have those back yet – and process into the church symbolizing the procession of that day.
Some of us knowing that soon and very soon – our shouts of Hosanna will turn to shouts of crucify him, crucify him – symbolizing the cries of the crowds who so quickly turned their savior – into their scapegoat.
Which is another reason today is strange. On this Palm Sunday we are not going to get to that part of the story. To share in the reading of the Passion Gospel. A practical reason for that is we’ve been encouraged to ensure that worship is under an hour – with a full hour at least of this space being empty before the next service begins.
But, I will tell you, and maybe you will think it’s strange – of all the new ways, perhaps temporary, perhaps not, that we’ve been trying to do worship this past year – this change has theological value for us.
It is good on Palm Sunday – the day that begins Holy Week – the day that invites us, just as Ash Wednesday did, to a more acute, intentional and personal engagement with Jesus and his journey this week. It is good on Palm Sunday to sit for a moment with this part of the story.
This beginning marks the ending of Jesus’ ministry among the people. People – who like us – are looking and longing for saviors. People – who like us – feel like they are in a strange time of a new beginning. The beginning of a whole new way of life – because finally the Rescuer is here. The one who will save.
Day by day, day by day – Oh dear Lord three things I pray.
To see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly
Day by day.
Holy Week invites, encourages, hopes for a daily walk with Jesus as he moves closer to the cross. It can feel strange to really bring forward in time a past event as if it is happening within our time. It can have an out of time reality feeling.
I know that is a feeling we’re all getting sick of – something we want to put behind us. I know – me too.
But maybe you and I can reframe our impatience and choose what comes when we’ve reached the point of resignation – acceptance. It is what it is. So what does today encourage us to accept and reframe here and now?
This is what I saw in the gospel – that I never noticed before:
“Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”
Jesus went in – looked around – and left. Why? What was he looking at? What did he go in there for?
You see – I’m sure you know why this sentence jumped out at me from the page – knowing that some of you would be in your church for the first time in a long time. Grateful – and sad – that not all of us can be here. But like Jesus on Palm Sunday – walking in – and looking around – before we leave.
What are we looking for within the walls of a building that we make sacred?
What does Jesus wants us to be looking for today?
In addition to the tension between Hosanna and crucify - Palm Sunday brings forward another tension in the Christian’s life. Like a tug of war that stretches, or has us reckon with – what do we come to church looking for?
On one hand – we need our sacred spaces. We need our temples our churches our houses of worship. Places to go and pray and be. Spaces for ritual and renewal – to mark celebrations and sorrows.
We need pews to sit in face forward so that no one sees us – fall asleep – or laugh – or cry – or simply stare at the altar or the window or the cross – and behold and be held by beauty and holiness within a house of prayer.
Yet – on the other hand – Jesus – the One who came to save – looks around and he leaves. He doesn’t worship. He doesn’t pray. This isn’t where he has his last meal – or sweat blood and tears on the night before he dies. He doesn’t talk to God – he doesn’t sit at all. He looks around and then he leaves – because it’s getting late – and he has last words to share in the world.
In a few hours those last words will be shared on the steps of the temple with his disciples. Do you see these great buildings? He’ll say - Not one stone will be left upon another – all will be thrown down. (Mk 13)
In a few days – he will say to those who follow and those who accuse – day after day – I stood with you in the temple teaching – and you did nothing. (14:49)
In a few days – he will say – I will destroy this temple that is made with hands and in three days I will build another – not made with hands. (14:58)\
And when there are no more words left – and he breathes his last – we read – and the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
So – on this first day of Holy Week – at the beginning of the ending – which thanks be to God will offer another new beginning – I invite us to acknowledge this tension of the temple.
What are we looking for? What needs to be torn in two – so that we might see – what Jesus wants us to see – day by day? What do you need to behold? What needs to held – in the arms of the one who came to save?
Easter won’t be the same this year as in the past. But of course there will be crowds in various places. There are always crowds on Easter. Let’s face it, all fo us prefer celebrations.
It takes love and courage to walk the way of the cross. It takes love and courage and I believe a mature faith to hold unresolved tension and walk without an answer towards the cross and resurrection – which brings resolution and new life – but not always in ways we expect.
Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.