Palm Sunday, Year A, 2011

Listen to the sermon here.

Palm Sunday is a day packed with words and imagery, so instead of a traditional sermon, I’ll be leading you all through a guided meditation.  Do not panic, no one will be asked to access their inner child or spirit guide.

What I would like you to do is to relax as best you can in your pew.  Uncross your legs, put both your feet on the floor, put your hands in your lap and take a few deep breaths, slowly breathing in and out.

You can keep your eyes open or close them.  Whatever is the most comfortable for you.

Let us begin.

You are part of the crowd who has been following Jesus.  What was your profession?  How long have you been following Jesus?  What have you seen along your journey?

You see Jesus heal two blind men.  How do they react? What it is it like when you make eye contact with them?  In what way are you hoping Jesus will heal you?

As you get closer to Jerusalem, you notice Jesus send his disciples out to get a donkey and a colt.  They come back and Jesus sits on one of the animals.  Suddenly the crowd is overcome. Images of past kings riding into victory into Jerusalem begin to overwhelm you.  You start to catch the excitement of the people around you. What do you hope Jesus will do in Jerusalem? Look around at the crowd.  What are some of the different reasons members of the crowd have followed Jesus?

You keep following Jesus into Jerusalem.  Jesus storms into the temple and starts throwing over tables and whipping people!  How does this make you feel?  How do you respond?

Suddenly, the authorities are all over Jesus.  The Scribes and Pharisees storm into the temple and look around trying to see if they recognize anyone in the crowd.  A few of them look right at you.  What happens to your body?  Does your heart start to race? What are the risks to you and your family to be associated with Jesus? Do you stick with Jesus or try to slip away?

The rest of the week, Jesus and the Pharisees seem locked in one long battle.  Jesus says parables and the Pharisees try to catch him breaking the rules.  On the days when the Pharisees aren’t coming to challenge Jesus, the Sadducees are.   Everyone around you is becoming more and more tense.  Finally, one day, Jesus just lets completely loose and starts insulting the Pharisees and Sadducees.  He insults them like you’ve never heard before and at least four distinct times says “Woe to you, Pharisees and scribes, hypocrites!”  How does this direct confrontation make you feel?

After that event, Jesus turns to you, the crowd, and starts telling you these horror stories of suffering that are going to happen to you.  He says,

Immediately after the suffering of those days
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from heaven,
and the powers of heaven will be shaken.

Are you terrified?  Where is the healing Jesus you had so come to admire?  Who is this angry man in front of you?

You are relieved when Jesus and his disciples disappear for awhile.  You need some time to breathe, to think about what is happening.  You need to think about where your loyalties lie.

One night you see some commotion in the street.  You follow the crowd and suddenly you’re in a garden and there Jesus is again.  But this time, Jesus is being arrested.  There is shouting and the clanging of swords, but Jesus seems strangely calm in the midst of the chaos.  Jesus’ arrest makes you sad, but also relieved in a way.  There is something about it that seems inevitable.  What feelings flood you as you see him taken away?

The next time you see Jesus, you are at the Passover festival.  The mood is not as festive as years past.  The word of Jesus arrest has spread throughout Jerusalem.  You see so many different reactions around you.  Some people are clearly devastated.  Some seem triumphant.  Others seem anxious and on edge.  How are you feeling?

You hear that the governor is going to make an announcement, so you shove your way forward to get a better look.

You hear Pilate’s voice yell out:  “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

What do you yell?

Most of the people in the crowd around you, are yelling Barabbas.

The governor now asks, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

You think back, to the Jesus you saw healing and teaching in the countryside.  And you think about the Jesus who stormed through the temple, argued with the Pharisees and Sadducees, who got himself arrested.  You think about the Jesus who spoke words about a terrifying apocalypse.  You look deep inside yourself and make your decision.

What do you yell?


Palm Sunday, Year C, 2010

We have just read the entire Passion of our Lord.  But I want us to take a step back to Palm Sunday, to find ourselves with Jesus and the disciples, outside of Jerusalem, awaiting the final chapter of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

We are reading through the Gospel of Luke this year, and the Palm Sunday reading is a little different from the readings in Mark and Matthew. There are no palms, actually.  No hosannas, either.  And the crowd that cheers Jesus on is not the crowd of locals that will soon shout “Crucify!”, but a large group of Jesus’ own disciples.

These disciples have been with Jesus along his journey, they have heard him speak of Jerusalem and of his own death over and over again, and yet they are still caught up in the moment, caught up in the memory of all the wonderful things they have seen Jesus do.  Together, they praise God in one voice, shouting

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

The disciples love Jesus, and are glad that God sent Jesus to them, but you get the sense here that they are still wrapped up in the idea of Jesus as an earthly king who is going to rise up against the Romans and bring the Jewish people back to political power.

Jesus does not rebuke them, or try to finesse their expectations.  He knows that even if they have the details wrong, their impulse to praise God is a good impulse.

The disciples are going to go through a huge emotional and spiritual journey.  They are going to experience the death of their friend and king and have to reframe their entire experience with Jesus.  They are going to have to grieve the loss of what they thought would be, and experience the wonder of the risen Jesus on their own terms.

And, to me, at least, there is something really beautiful about Jesus allowing them to have their joy and their hope, even if the joy and hope is misdirected.  In fact, Jesus tells the Pharisees that if his followers did not praise him stones would cry out in their place.

Praising God, as Martha Stewart might say, is a good thing.  Jesus trusts himself enough, and trusts his Father enough, to know that Jesus’ death and resurrection will speak for themselves.  Jesus does not have to persuade or convince his disciples with words.  The very act of his resurrection will be enough to make them understand that Jesus’ kingship was never about earthly power, but about changing spiritual reality. For now, it is enough that his followers praise him and his Father.  Their praise does not have to express a perfectly formed and correct theological thought.

We, too, get wrapped up in hoping Jesus will do things for us in this world.  I’ve known people who swore God provided them parking spaces.  We all know sports teams, actors, and musicians who credit their award winning performances to God.  (My husband swears some of those shots Butler made Thursday night in the NCAA tournament had to be helped by the Holy Spirit.) People certainly said their prayers one way or the other during the last election and during last week’s Health Care Reform vote.  Those prayers may have been meaningful or superficial; they may reflect gratitude for something God has no interest in whatsoever! But the impulse to praise God, the impulse to give God credit for our successes is a good one.

When we praise God, we point to something true about God.  We point to God as creator, provider, caretaker, redeemer, savior.  And the more we praise God, the more we will come to realize that our praise of God can come independent of our personal circumstances.  The reality of God’s faithfulness is the reality of the resurrection.  God offers us new life whether we are getting parking spots or not, whether our sports team wins or not, whether our political party is in power or not.  Jesus’ death and resurrection apply to our lives no matter how rich or how poor we are, no matter how happy or sad we are. The good news of Jesus’ resurrection is so important to our souls that it transcends any other circumstances in our lives.

So, this Holy Week, we invite you to join us as we follow Jesus’ story in Jerusalem.  We invite you to experience the last supper, Jesus’ death, and Jesus’ glorious resurrection.  And we trust that whatever is going on in your life, the good news of God’s resurrection will make you want to praise God, too.