To Be Continued – Luke 19:28-40
A few weeks ago, when I preached last, I cheekily ended my sermon with a “to be continued” cliff-hanger – and today, our cliff-hanger begins to unfold. Are you ready?!
Palm Sunday has always been a bit perplexing for me, as a preacher. On the one hand it is a big celebration. We wave our palms to our Palm Sunday hymns. For all its reflective beauty, it feels like, even for a moment, that Palm Sunday is our time to party. To celebrate.
And yet, as people living on this side of the resurrection, we know that is not how the story ends. We know that those shouts of “Hosanna!” turn into cries to “Crucify him!” We know that Jesus does not ride off into a sunset but to Gethsemane, where he was arrested and later sentenced to death. We know eventually the palms that are laid down ahead of Jesus on the road to Jerusalem are ultimately abandoned and replaced with a crown of thorns on his head while he is crucified.
Palm Sunday has always seemed like a bit of a paradox to me. Because even though it is, for all intents and purposes, a celebration – we know that things are about to get really difficult. And in some way, it feels like an even bigger paradox to preach on Palm Sunday because we have been living in a time that has been really challenging. It feels a bit precarious to celebrate something when we are feeling the weight of the past couple of years and when our entire world feels more broken with each passing day and news story.
And so, first of all, I want you to know that it is okay to come into this space a little bit confused this morning. It is okay to wrestle with the fact that we are celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem while also deeply grieving what is happening in our world today.
But it is important to point out that Jesus knows what is going to happen when he parades into Jerusalem. At this point, he has foretold his death and resurrection and, while his disciples do not understand, he certainly does – he knows things are about to get really difficult.
And yet, he still lets this moment happen. In fact, he creates this moment.
As Jesus and his disciples approach Jerusalem, he sends two of them ahead to go into the village and bring him back a colt, telling anyone who asks, “The Rabbi needs it.” The disciples do this and then spread their cloaks on the animal and Jesus begins to ride into Jerusalem. As he does this, a “very large crowd” gathers; some of them spread their own cloaks on the road and others cut branches from nearby trees and spread those on the road. People go ahead of him, and some follow him, and they shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in God’s name!”
Jesus knows what is about to happen – yet it is still important to him that he gathers the Body of Christ; that he pauses for a moment, in anticipation of what is to come, and praises God. The word, “Hosanna,” is an expression of adoration, praise or joy. This is a moment for Jesus, even in anticipation of what is going to come, to joyfully praise the God who will not abandon him, to gather the Body of Christ in a moment in time when the world so desperately needs it.
And so, this morning, our own hybrid version of a crowd has gathered to do just that. To joyfully praise the God who we know has not and will not abandon us. To wave palms, to celebrate not just this Scriptural moment but to also celebrate that for the first time in 2 years we are together – in person and online – waving our palms – living out our faith story. To show up in God’s name and proclaim God’s goodness and grace, even though things are really hard right now. To be the Body of Christ – the Church – in a moment in time when it is so desperately needed.
I love the fact that we now have a mixture of actual palms and wonderfully created paper palms that are part of our new tradition. But it also got me thinking – what do our palms represent?
We distribute palms on Palm Sunday because that is our tradition, because it is Palm Sunday, but are there other ways that we can honour this day?
I have a couple of thoughts:
The first comes from what I have already had the honour of witnessing over the past couple of years – the ways in which people have continued to do the work of Christ in some of the most life-giving kind of ways.
The crowd that gathers with Jesus is laying down palms and cloaks as a sign of adoration and praise and honour – as a way of proclaiming their commitment to follow Jesus. As nice as it is for us to be able to offer hybrid worship with some of us together again in-person in this sanctuary, I also reflected how over the past two years, I have seen a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and of a commitment to follow Jesus.
Every time someone drops off a donation of canned goods to the food bank, provides desserts and baking for A Better Tent City, helps with lunches for 1492 Landback Lane, or makes a monetary donation to an organization working to ensure the most vulnerable have the essentials they need, they are laying down palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and their commitment to follow Jesus.
Every time someone drops off a meal or runs an errand for someone who is recovering from surgery or an illness, they are laying down palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and their commitment to follow Jesus.
Every time someone wears a mask to keep others and themselves safe, they are laying down palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and their commitment to follow Jesus.
Every time someone calls their neighbour, sends an email, or sends someone a card, they are laying down palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and their commitment to follow Jesus.
Every time our committees gather, every time the Lenten Study group has met, through our work of anti-racism and right relations, every time the Covid working group and Council prayerfully implements plans and policies to keep everyone as safe as possible or comes up with creative ways to enhance our hybrid worship – we are laying down palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and our commitment to follow Jesus.
We are giving glory and honour to God right now, not simply by waving palms, but by living out the Gospel in real and tangible and hard, but also lifechanging ways.
By making sure the most vulnerable are cared for.
By holding one another in prayer.
By doing challenging but meaningful and important work.
By proclaiming the bold and, admittedly, very hard truth that despite all the challenges, the moments where we just kept keeping on, that God’s love was real and present and active in our lives and in the world.
We are entering Holy Week in the Christian Church, a time when we remember the hard and toilsome journey Jesus took as he was arrested and then sentenced to death by crucifixion. Holy Week is really where we put our own faith to the test – where we are reminded of the really hard parts of the story and are forced to wait for resurrection. We cannot rush the story and we must sit with the discomfort and the challenge of that.
Holy Week is a sacred moment for us to reclaim our dreams and reawaken our deep longings, not just for ourselves, but for the life of the world. It’s a time to remember the suffering of Christ, but also the deep sighs of the world. It’s a time for us to renew our deep intentions, a time to review the beauty and vulnerability of our lives and revive our commitment to make Love real in the world
Jesus wanted to make love real in the world. He spoke on behalf of the poor at an outdoor rally in Galilee. He reached out to a blind man, a hemorrhaging woman, a confused philosopher, an exiled loner, the broken, the lost, the lonely, the exiled and the outcast. He threatened those with political power because they knew he had something to say about faith, love, compassion and justice. He made a choice to love with his arms wide open and extended, beyond boundaries. Radical inclusion then, as now, was not exactly the mode of operation, but Jesus has a talent for it, and he used this talent to the fullest.
As we move into this sacred, liminal, and holy time, let us be reminded that our call is to bear the dream of a world made whole and healed again through our efforts to witness to new life and love in this world.
I wish you all many blessings as we head into Holy Week. I have always said that the three days between Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday is a special time in the Christian year because it is the only time that we get to live out the story in real time.
But in so many ways, this year it feels like once again we are living out this story in real experience, as well.
And so now we wait. We lean into our faith. We trust that God has not abandoned us. We cry out to God to save us, knowing that God hears those cries.
And, in the meantime, we lay down our palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and our commitment to follow Jesus.
Because we know that Easter is coming.
So have patience, strength and perseverance for the journey. Give grace to those around you and make sure you give it to yourself, as well. And await, with great anticipation and expectation, the resurrection that is coming.
I’ve said it a few times, but I’m going to say it once more …as we move into this Holy Week together, our journey is still…To be continued…
Thanks be to God! Amen.
Rev. Heather Power