On Palm Sunday, the real proclamation of the Gospel is the service itself. All I want to do this morning is point out what is happening as we worship, and how it connects to what will happen this week.
Our service began with the story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which we then re-enacted in our own way. It’s fun to imagine ourselves as part of the crowd that day welcoming Christ as the coming king.
But I’ve never been sure what to think of the crowd. When they shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David!,” did they really mean it? As best I can tell, the answer is, sort of.
The people seem genuinely enthusiastic about Jesus. But their enthusiasm is clearly superficial. It has no depth, and so it doesn’t last.
I think about my experience of parties. That’s appropriate. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem turns into a street party of sorts.
The problem is, I have never been very good at parties. When I was in my early twenties, I used alcohol to help get me through them. By my thirties, I had mostly quit going to parties. But there were a few years in the middle when I still went to parties, but didn’t drink very much.
During those middle years, I prepared myself for parties by playing a particularly favorite song as loud as my speakers could handle, and jumping all around my house while singing as loudly as I could. Needless to say, I could only do this alone! Not even Carrie could be in the house.
By the end of the song, my adrenaline was pumping, and I felt great. I was ready to party. For maybe an hour. After an hour, the effects of my singing and dancing had worn off, and I was back to standing around the edges of the group waiting until Carrie was ready to leave.
I think of the crowd on that first Palm Sunday as about like me when I arrived at a party. Full of enthusiasm that might look genuine, might look like true joy, but an artificial, fake kind of enthusiasm. I think a lot of contemporary culture is like that, too: flashy material stuff that’s supposed to be fulfilling somehow but that only distracts and entertains, without truly satisfying.
That’s where our service starts.
Predictably, the crowd’s enthusiasm soon wears off, and things get ugly. In the Passion Gospel, we are brought face to face with the tragedy of Christ’s betrayal, abandonment, torture, crucifixion, and death.
Worst of all is when we all cry out together, “Crucify him, crucify him!!”
The service puts us in the position of the crowd both times, when we welcome and acclaim Christ and again when we call for Christ’s death. We go from superficial joy to real suffering and pain and death.
And so begins our celebration of Holy Week.
The miracle of this day, the miracle of Holy Week, the miracle of our lives, the miracle of the Christian gospel, is that Jesus meets us there, at that place of suffering and death.
It is a great paradox that we often come to know God best through what we suffer, in the midst of hard times, when we are stretched to the breaking point. That’s when we are most powerfully confronted with our need for God, when we are most fully open to God’s presence, when our need meets God’s grace.
Today and this week are all about the way of the cross, which Christ walked, which Christ helps us to walk whenever we find ourselves on it.
That’s particularly good news for us, here at Saint David’s, right now. This weekend, we had to say goodbye to two of our saints. Saying goodbye is painful.
But Christ meets us in the valley of the shadow of death, Christ who didn’t have to go through that valley joining us who have no choice. Christ accompanies us to the point of death itself.
Next Sunday, we will celebrate the miraculous fact that Christ keeps going, right through the doorway of death into eternal life. Christ keeps going, and Christ invites us to accompany him, to follow where he has led the way. Christ makes possible the entrance into eternal life of the people we love and have lost. Christ makes possible our own entrance into eternal life.
And what we find on the other side of death is resurrection, true joy.
Not the superficial joy of the crowd on that first Palm Sunday. Not the adrenaline rush of an introverted young party-goer, or the materialistic pleasures so valued in contemporary America.
The true joy of right relationship with God. The true joy of knowing that love and grace have the final word. The true joy that comes after fear or suffering or death, that comes with resurrection into eternal life and resurrection experiences even now.
For today, for the next week, we’ll linger in the valley of the shadow of death. But Christ is with us, leading us through, bringing us to the other side, restoring to us the possibility of joy. And for that, I give thanks. In Christ’s name, Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan