Of all of the services that we have throughout the year, all of the services on the Christian church calendar, it is this service, the Palm Sunday service, which has the most dramatic shift in tone. So we started off this morning with great joy, those wonderful uplifting hymns, and we waved our palm branches and shouted Hosanna. But our service is going to now shift.
At the end of our service today, Peter Black is not going to be playing a postlude. Instead, we're going to process out of the church in darkness, and in silence. The lights of the church will be dimmed. And we will process out in silence after singing “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
Because today we are commemorating two processions, Jesus's joyful procession into Jerusalem on what we now call that first Palm Sunday. But we're also commemorating Jesus's procession to the cross on that first Good Friday.
Today, we're celebrating both palms and passion. And it all happened in less than a week's time. People went from cheering Jesus on a Sunday to jeering him on Friday. Some of those very people who were shouting Hosanna on Sunday? On Friday, they were shouting, “Crucify Him!”
And some of those very people that were waving palm branches on Sunday, on Friday, were spitting on Jesus and whipping him.
So my question for you today is – What in the world? Did Jesus say? Or do? That in less than a week's time led people from cheering him to wanting to kill him?
I mean, if Jesus just came into Jerusalem, to preach, preach peace, joy, and love – to tell the people ‘Love one another, serve one another, forgive one another.” If that's all he was doing? Why would they want to kill him?
Well, I've told you before, Jesus wasn't killed because he was a nice guy. Jesus was killed because he was coming to bring forth a new kingdom, a New World Order, a world in which the last would be first, with the least of these would be the most important. A world in which the hungry would be fed, the sick would be healed, the stranger would be welcome.
And that, of course, was a threat to the powers that be and to people of privilege who wanted to maintain the status quo.
That's why Jesus was killed. He was an enemy of the state.
My friends, if we truly are to call ourselves Christians, followers of the way of Jesus, then we too, have to do what he did. We have to speak truth courageously to the powers that be of our day. When they enact policies that benefit the rich, but that hurt the poor, that keep out the stranger, that deny health care to the sick, and policies and procedures that demean those who are different.
That may make us enemies to the state, to people in our lives, but so was Jesus.
Now we heard in our words of integration and guidance this morning, about a book called The Last Week, and I'm so grateful to hear that Reverend Fred and Joan got to meet Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. The book had just come out at the time. The book tells the story of the last days of Jesus.
John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg were two of the leading figures of the progressive Christian movement. They were part of the famous Jesus Seminar. And in The Last Week, Borg and Crossan write this:
“The point is not that Jesus was a good guy, and accepted everybody, and that we should do the same. Rather, his teachings and behavior reflect an alternative social vision. Jesus was not talking about how to be good, and how to behave in the framework of a domination system. He was a critic of the domination system itself.”
Jesus was a critic of the system. That's why they killed him. And it wasn't just the political and religious leaders! It was the people. The people turned on him, because they were expecting a different kind of king. They were expecting a Messiah, a worldly king. And Jesus disappointed them. Because he wasn't that kind of king. Every time someone tried to give him those titles, “King,” “Messiah,” he always refused them. And you see what he did when he came into Jerusalem.
He came in riding on a donkey. He did that on purpose.
I don't know if you've ever seen a grown man riding a donkey. It's not very kingly, or majestic, is it? Kings come into cities riding on stallions pulling golden chariots. Jesus purposely came in on a lowly donkey to tell the people, “I'm not what you expect.” And he also did it to mock the domination system. To make fun of it. The Kingdom Jesus was trying to bring about was a very different kind of Kingdom. It's why we in the progressive church, don't like to use the word “kingdom,” because it denotes worldly kingdoms, monarchs on a throne with a crown. Instead we have been using the term “Kin dom.” Jesus wanted to bring about a world where all people recognize that they are kin, that we were all one that we all belong to one another, that what happens to you happens to me.
Jesus was trying to bring about a just world for all people. And if we are to be followers of his way, we have to be about the same thing.
Now in that book, The Last Week, Crossan and Borg remind us that on that first Palm Sunday, when Jesus was coming in on the donkey, on the other side of town, there was a military parade.
Pilate was coming in on a big war horse.
And people were also shouting for him with great enthusiasm and excitement. Two processions. One was coming in the way of the Lord. And the other was coming in the way of power, domination, worldly things.
So that's the question we have to always ask ourselves at the beginning of Holy Week: “What path are we following?”
What path are you following? Are you following the way of the spirit? Or are you following the way of the world? You can't follow both.
You know, Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters.” That's what he meant. He said, You cannot serve both God and Mammon. Mammon means power, prestige, wealth. You can't serve both. You can't say that you are a Christian, and then support policies that are in direct opposition to the way of Jesus.
Now, every year, at the beginning of Holy Week, I say the same thing. If you've been coming to Douglas UCC now for nine years. You've heard this same thing – I call Holy Week. Wholly Week, Wholly Week is a week for us to journey to wholeness.
Jerusalem was called the Holy City. That means wholeness, holiness. And we have to remember this week, that on our journey, on our path to holiness, as we follow the spiritual procession, the way of the Lord, there's going to be joy. But there's also going to be sorrow. There's going to be light. But there's also going to be darkness. It involves both palms and passion, both of them.
I shared at the beginning of the Lenten season two examples, I talked about a seed having to go into the darkness of the soil, and stay there and die to being the seed in order for it to grow and be what God created it to be. And I gave the example of a caterpillar, how a caterpillar has to go into the darkness of a cocoon for a long period of time, before it can emerge as a butterfly.
On our spiritual path, we have to go into periods of darkness, they're required. On Facebook this week, I shared a quote from Sister Joan Chittister. She said, “Darkness deserves our gratitude. For it is the Hallelujah point in which we realize that not all growth takes place in the light.”
Did you ever think about that when you're in the dark moments of your life, to express gratitude to God for them? It's hard for us to do that. But those moments of darkness and sorrow, they are there in our lives because they are part of our spiritual growth. They are part of our becoming more and more of who God created us to be.
And so my friends as we begin Holy Week, I'd like to invite you to take those palms home with you today. And to put them in a place where you're going to see them this week. Maybe for those of you who pray and meditate each day, put them there by the little altar or the spot where you meditate and pray. And when you look at them. May they encourage you to continue walking the spiritual path. The way of the Lord, especially during your time of darkness.
And May they remind you that good Friday was not the end of the story. There is new growth and new life. May you have a very blessed, good, and meaningful Holy Week.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
Rev. Kathy Dwyer, pastor of UCC church in Arlington, VA
I have always struggled with thinking of Jesus as “King.” I have never lived in a monarchy, so using words like “Lord,” “Prince,” “Master,” and “King” have little meaning for me. Jesus did not call himself by any of the elevated titles we often attribute to him. John Knox, a 16th century Scottish clergyman, who is considered the founder of Presbyterianism, argued that “thinking that Jesus thought of himself in such grand terms raises serious questions about the mental health of Jesus.” These titles conjure up notions of power that are in sharp contrast with what I know of Jesus. That is the point, actually. In the book, The Last Week, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan describe how there were actually two processions on what Christians now call Palm Sunday; there was a military procession from the West led by the Roman Governor Pilate, and the peaceful entrance, a counter-procession, from the East led by Jesus. Pilate entered on a war horse; Jesus entered on a donkey. Pilate came in the name of Caesar. Jesus came “in the name of the Lord.” Jesus and Pilate represented two starkly different ways of being: Pilate to domination, violence, and glory; Jesus committed to service, non-violence, and humility. To “come in the name of the Lord” was to come with a set of values that stood in contrast to the State. Today, for us “to come in the name of the Lord” and to let Jesus be “King” as opposed to the State often means we will be counter-cultural people. May this Holy Week strengthen us for the challenge.
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