Of all of the Sundays on the Christian church calendar, it is the Palm Sunday service, the one we are celebrating today, that has the most dramatic shift in tone. We started off this morning so joyfully waving our palm branches and singing ‘Hosanna.’ But our service today is going to end in a dramatically different way.
Peter Black is not going to be playing a postlude this morning. Instead, we are going to process out of the church in silence today after singing, ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord.’
Because today we are commemorating two processions, Jesus's joyful procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and his sorrowful procession to the cross on Good Friday.
So we begin with Palm Sunday, as we just heard, in today's Gospel reading, Jesus enters into Jerusalem, and people are rejoicing, waving their palm branches shouting Hosanna! But in less than a week's time, many of those people who were waving palm branches for Jesus, they're going to be spitting on Jesus. And in less than a week's time, many of those people who were shouting Hosanna! are going to be shouting, ‘Crucify Him!’ So my question for you this Palm Sunday morning is: What did Jesus say? Or do? That in less than a week's time people went from praising him to wanting to kill him?
When Jesus was entering into Jerusalem, if he was just there to preach peace, joy and love, if he was just there, to tell people to love one another, forgive one another, serve one another, then why would the people want to crucify him?
Well, Jesus was not killed because he was a nice guy. Jesus was killed because he was trying to establish a new kingdom, a new world order, one in which the last would be first, where the least of these would be the most important, a world in which the lowly would be lifted up high, and the rich and the powerful, would be pulled down from their thrones.
And that is a threat to people of privilege, and power, and prestige.
Now, if we truly are to call ourselves followers of the way of Jesus, then we have to be Kingdom builders. And what that means is, we have to speak truth to people of power and privilege and prestige, including ourselves! We’re people of privilege. But we have to speak truth to the powers that be when they support and enact policies that are the opposite of the way of Jesus, the opposite of the Kingdom, when they support policies that keep out the stranger, when they enact policies that benefit the rich and hurt the poor, when they enact and support policies that keep the outcast, or those who are different, from being celebrated – when they demean them.
We are called to speak truth. Now that may make us a lot of enemies – enemies in our own families – and it may also make us enemies of the state. But so was Jesus.
Now in our words of integration and guidance this morning, we heard about a book called The Last Week. It's a book about the last days of Jesus, and it was written by John Dominic Crossan and the late Marcus Borg, two leading progressive Christian theologians. And in that book, they wrote this, they said,
“The point is not that Jesus was a good guy who accepted everybody, and we should do the same. Rather Jesus's teachings and behavior reflect an alternative social vision. Jesus wasn't 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 domination system. And that is why the religious and political leaders wanted to silence him. And as we see today, the people turned on Jesus in less than a week's time, because they were expecting a king. They thought Jesus was going to come into Jerusalem and be a king, and was going to extend power and privilege and prestige to them. But Jesus was a different kind of king. And that's why he chose to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey.
Now, I don't know if you've ever seen a grown man riding a donkey, but it looks kind of ridiculous. And that was the point. You see, kings would come into town on gold chariots pulled by majestic horses. Jesus purposely chose a lonely donkey, because he was mocking the domination system. He was making fun of it.
It was a counter-cultural protest, if you will.
Jesus did not want to be put on a throne, he did not want to be worshiped. What Jesus wanted to do was to empower others, to empower us to see the Divinity, the royalty, within ourselves and within one another.
And that's why we in the progressive Christian Church don't really like to use the word kingdom. Because what Jesus was trying to establish wasn't a worldly kingdom. We in the progressive church use the word kin-dom, because what Jesus was trying to establish was a place where we would see and treat one another as kin, as siblings, as family.
Now in that book, The Last Week, Crossen and Borg remind us that there were two processions on that first Palm Sunday. Jesus was coming in on the donkey, in the name of the Lord. But on the other side of town, there was a military procession, Pontius Pilate was coming into town at that same time on a war horse, and he was coming in the name of Caesar.
So one arrives in the name of love. One arrives in the name of unity, justice, in the name of the Spirit of God. And another arrived in the way of the world, in the way of the State, in the way of power and prestige.
And so it's a really good question for us to ask ourselves as we begin Holy Week. What procession are you following in your life?
Are you being led, by the way of love? Or by the way of fear?
Are you being led by the way of the Spirit or by the way of the ego?
It's very important for us to ask, Which voice am I listening to? Which voice am I being led by?
Jesus comes in the name of the Lord. And if we are truly to call ourselves followers of his way, then we have to have the courage to follow him into Jerusalem. As I mentioned, at the top of the service, Jerusalem is the holy city, and it represents a place of wholeness. The spiritual journey is the journey from separation to wholeness, from fear to love, from ego, to Spirit, and that journey that we're all on is going to require periods of darkness. We cannot get to Easter Without Good Friday, all of us are going to go through periods of darkness in our spiritual journey. A seed needs to go into the darkness of the soil. And it has to die to being a seed. A caterpillar needs to go into the darkness of the cocoon, and die to being a caterpillar.
And we, my friends on our spiritual journey, we need to die more and more to our ego, to our false self. So that we can resurrect our divine self, or Christ self. Now that is going to require us to take up our cross. And most of us don't want to hear that, because it requires sacrifice.
But you know, sacrifice is not a negative word. The root word is sacred. That sacrifice actually means to make holy, to make whole.
And we have a new way of looking at what the cross symbolizes. It's the place where our humanity meets our divinity and becomes one with it. Separation to oneness, wholeness, holiness.
And that's why we should be grateful for those dark periods in our lives. Sister Joan Chittister has said, “Darkness deserves our gratitude.” She said it's the Hallelujah point in which we realize that all growth doesn't happen in the sunlight. Growth happens in the darkness.
Now we are going through a very dark period in our country, in our world. But it's not the end of the story. New life is on its way. I promise you that. And that is what the palms you received this morning symbolize. When you take them home and you look at them this week, may they be a reminder for you that new growth and new life is on its way for you. And when you look at them, may they remind you as we begin Holy Week, to keep pressing. Keep moving forward on your spiritual journey, from separation to wholeness, from fear to love. I'm wishing you a very blessed good and meaningful Holy Week.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
By 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 Days, 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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