Palm & Passion Sunday
Well, of all the Sundays on the church calendar, the Palm Sunday service (which we’re celebrating today) is the worship service with the most dramatic shift in tone. If you recall from previous years, we normally begin the Palm Sunday service with great joy and celebration, waving our palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest!” But, we end our Palm Sunday service each year in a dramatically different way… in complete silence and darkness.
Peter Black will not be playing a postlude today. Instead, our service will end with the hymn, “Were You There When the Crucified My Lord,” and with the screen fading to black.
Today, you see, we are commemorating two events, two processions: Jesus’s joyous procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and also his sorrowful procession to the cross on Good Friday.
As we just heard in today’s Gospel message, Jesus enters into Jerusalem with great fanfare, with people shouting his name and waving palms. They are so excited to see him.
But, in less than a week’s time, many of those very same people will no longer be waving palm branches at Jesus. Instead, they’ll be spitting on him.
And, in less than a week’s time, many of those same people will no longer be shouting “Hosanna!” at Jesus. Instead, they’ll be shouting, “Crucify him!”
And, so my question for you this Palm Sunday is: “What in the world did Jesus say or do that upset people so much that they went frompraising him to killing him?” I mean, if was Jesus simply going around teaching people about peace, love, and joy – telling people to forgive one another, love one another, serve one another – why would that make people so upset?
Well, I’ve told you before: Jesus wasn’t killed because he was a “nice guy.” Jesus was killed because he was trying to establish a new Kin-dom, one in which the stranger would be welcome, the poor would be fed, the sick would be healed, the outcast would be loved and accepted.
Jesus was killed because he was trying to establish a new world order, where the last would be first, where the “least of these” would be given most importance.
That was a threat to the Powers-that-be back in Jesus’s day, and it remains a threat to the Powers-that-be today.
If we, my friends, truly wish to call ourselves followers of the Way of Jesus – if we truly say that we are builders of the Kin-dom – then we are called to do as Jesus did: to speak Truth to the Powers-that-be when they enact polices that keep out the stranger; that deny healthcare to the sick; that demean the outcast; and that hurt the poor and benefit the rich.
This Truth-telling may make us enemies of the State, but so was Jesus.
Our “Words of Integration & Guidance” today mention a book called The Last Days, by John Dominic Crosson and the late Marcus Borg, two members of the famous Jesus Seminar and two of the world’s leading Progressive Christian theologians.
In the book, they write: “The point is not that Jesus was good guy who accepted everybody and 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, and that’s what got him killed. The Powers-that-be needed to silence him.
And, the people turned on him, too, because they were expecting a different kind of king…. one that would be about power and wealth and dominion.
But, Jesus wasn’t that kind of king, and he demonstrated that in today’s Gospel passage when he entered Jerusalem on a donkey.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a grown man riding a donkey, but it is not very majestic or kingly.
Kings would come riding into town on gold chariots and splendid horses, not lowly donkeys.
But, by riding a donkey, Jesus was purposely mocking the domination system. You see, Jesus was not seeking power and praise for himself. He wanted to empower people to see the Divinity within themselves and within one another.
And, that’s why many of us in Progressive Christian churches don’t really like using the word “Kingdom” to describe what Jesus was trying to establish, because he wasn’t seeking to be a King on throne, an object of praise.
Rather, he wanted to empower us to build a KIN-dom together, a place where all people are considered KIN, brothers and sisters of one another.
Also in their book, The Last Days, Crosson and Borg remind us that there were two processions on that first Palm Sunday: One led by Pontius Pilate coming in the name of Caesar, and one was led by Jesus coming the name of the Lord.
One is the way of the state, the way of the world, the way of the ego… and the other is the way of Love, the way of the Spirit, the way of the Christ.
So, on this Palm Sunday, stop and ask yourself: “Which procession – which path – am I following?” The way of the world or the way of the Christ? The Way of the Ego or the Way of Spirit? Remember, you can’t serve both!
As Jesus says in Scripture: “No one can serve two masters: for either they will hate the one, and love the other; or else, they will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Mammon meaning “wealth and power and dominion.”
So, which procession (which path) are you following?
If we are to truly call ourselves Christians, we must have the courage to follow Jesus on the procession into Jerusalem, the Holy City, for that is where Holy Week begins.
Now, if you’ve been coming to Douglas UCC for a number of years now, you know I refer to Holy Week as “WHOLE-ly” Week… W.H.O.L.E. For this is a week for us to journey to WHOLENESS, to HOLINESS.
The procession into Jerusalem symbolizes the spiritual path, the path to wholeness. The word “procession” comes from the same root word as the word “process.” Our spiritual procession (our spiritual journey) is a process. And, this process requires both light and darkness, palms and passion.
As we’ve been talking about each Sunday during Lent, this process requires us to go to places of darkness in order to experience new growth and new life.
In the darkness of Lent, we undergo the process of “dying”…dying to the worldly self, the false self, the ego self. In the darkness of Lent, we are consciously crucifying the ego self so that we can resurrect the spiritual Self, the Divine Self, the True Self, the Christ Self.
This Lenten procession (this spiritual process) requires our “taking up our cross,” just as Jesus did. It requires SACRIFICE.
The word “sacrifice” comes from a Latin word which means “To Make Holy”… to MAKE WHOLE.
If we, my friends, are to experience this Wholeness (this Oneness) – if we are to experience new life - we must have the courage to follow Jesus into Jerusalem, and we must be willing to enter into the darkness.
The contemporary Christian writer, Sister Joan Chittister, said: “Darkness deserves our gratitude. It’s the Hallelujah Point at which we learn to understand that all growth does not take place in the sunlight.”
We, my friends, have gone through a period of darkness during this pandemic, but that’s not the end of the story. The promise of new life is on its way.
But, for now, we allow the darkness of the cross and the darkness of the tomb to heal us and transform us.
I’m wishing you all a very meaningful and a very blessed Holy Week.
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