Palm Sunday, 2005
St. David’s, Pepperell (MA)
It’s Palm Sunday, the longest morning in Christendom. It’s not your imagination; this really is going on forever. The problem is that we’re doing two liturgies, two days, in one today. We started with the Palm Sunday liturgy and then, with the reading of the Passion that we just completed, moved into Good Friday as well.
So why does the Church do this to us?
I’m inclined to tell you that you have no one to blame but yourselves, but the truth is, we have lots of people throughout the Church and around the world to blame. We do two liturgies today because we know that a lot of you won’t be here on Good Friday. And we also know that Easter without Good Friday is as hollow and as nutritious as one of those big chocolate bunnies your kids will find in their Easter baskets.
A free floating Easter of new clothes, bunnies, peeps, jelly beans, and the occasional joyful acknowledgement that Christ is risen can provide a nice spiritual sugar high – but it does not nourish us, it will not sustain us, and it trivializes God’s great work in our lives. So, knowing that, but knowing also that, short of tying us to our chairs and prying our jaws open, it’s not always possible to get us to take what’s good for us, the Church, in its wisdom, has decided to cram as much of the important stuff as possible into a meal we’re reasonably likely to eat. You can think of Palm Sunday as a regular family dinner wherein all the familiar dishes have been vitamin fortified.
First, we’re given Palm Sunday and Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In this part of our liturgy we’re reminded what it was the people wanted, what they were looking for. They expected a military savior who would end their oppression and get revenge. The lust for revenge is not alien to the people of God. We may be warned not to indulge it but there’s no point in pretending we’re strangers to it. Check the Psalms. The psalmists lament their grief and oppression, their pain and their loss. But what they’re really mad about is that the people who did it to them keep getting away with it. People hoped for, expected that Jesus was, the one who would smite their enemies as well as restoring justice.
Their first clue that they were not going to get what they were expecting should have come when he arrived. He rode into town not on a horse, the symbol of military might in that time, he didn’t ride in perched atop a tank. He came in on a donkey, more like an old VW van. This Jesus came not to conquer but to preach a new way; to announce that, all appearances notwithstanding, Empire could not, would not, prevail; and to stand firm in those proclamations even though it meant that the Empire would kill him, as he knew it would, as he knew it, being Empire, must.
But this morning we see the people, people not unlike us, still hoping for an easy way out – for someone to fight and sacrifice for them; to conquer for them; to win, for them, a peace that no one else can, in fact, bestow.
And when, on Good Friday, the chickens come home to roost, when the full weight of Empire fell upon this itinerate preacher, this son of a Nazarene carpenter, this apostle of peace – those people, people not unlike you, not unlike me, those people turned on him. Disappointed, angry that he wasn’t what they expected, they threw him to the wolves. Even his followers, who kind-of got it, distanced themselves – "I don’t know him; he is nothing to me."
These stories of dashed hope, betrayal, failure, despair, cowardice, and fear… these are our stories. These are what get taken to the cross and the tomb with Jesus on Good Friday. These are what get redeemed, these are the people who get resurrected, on Easter.
Easter does not promise us that everything will be pretty; it doesn’t tell us that we can just forget our problems, put our miseries and shortcomings behind us. Holy Week teaches us that we achieve resurrection, redemption, and Easter glory not by turning our back on these things or going around them, but by going through them and coming out, with Jesus, on the other side.
Easter is not here yet. Don’t rush it. May you, instead, enter fully into this time of the Passion and have a blessed Holy Week.