Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019

Palm Sunday, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s, Mountain Home

With Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we mark the start of the most important week in the Church year.  The reading today of Jesus’ Passion from the Gospel of Luke, foretells what is to come next.  This Sixth Sunday in Lent, Sunday of the Passion, or Palm Sunday, we begin down a road that has been walked again and again, every year for nearly two millennia, a road of celebration, of joy, of betrayal, of heartache, of death; a road that leads to resurrection and the casting down of sin once and for all.  Today we experience some of the highs and lows of that Lukan passion narrative. 

We started with our liturgy of the palms.  But…did you notice that this year, Lectionary Year C, we read Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem in Luke and two things we always associate with Palm Sunday….namely the waving of palms and the shouts of Hosanna are nowhere to be found in this reading?  Luke leaves these details out, yet much like details of the nativity, or other stories of Jesus that differ across the gospels, there are certain symbols that are just part of our experience.  It’s important to understand also, that what we read out of these Gospels is most certainly done intentionally. The author of Luke may not have wanted to connect this story of Jesus to what those palms stand for.  In Jewish history and tradition there are times where the waving of palms was to celebrate victorious battles, especially the Maccabean revolt.  It is offered by some scholars that perhaps Luke doesn’t want us to think of Jesus as part of a violent revolution.  It’s hard to say, and dangerous for us to assume.

What we are given though is a crowd that shouts with joy at Jesus’ entry.  His disciples are shouting praise, so much so that the Pharisees who are present tell Jesus to quiet them down.  Jesus responds: “If they were silent, the stones would shout.”  If his followers were silenced the very foundations of the earth would herald the messiah’s entrance into Jerusalem.  But this joy and celebration will not last long.  Some of the people in this crowd may very well be the ones only five days later that will shout, “crucify him!” and demand that Pilate release Barabbas instead of Jesus.  All four Gospels name the man who is released instead of Jesus.  A man who’s name, “Barabbas” literally means ‘son of the father’.  Scholars disagree Barabbas’ existence, some even stating that the author of the Gospel of Mark, the oldest of our Gospels, created this character as a foil, and his name is word-play since Jesus is the true ‘Son of the Father’.  Regardless, it gives us pause to consider how quickly we can go from celebrating to cursing someone, even when they have the best of intentions for us.

As Jesus rides into the city people are hopeful.  They are clinging to a hope that their savior has indeed come to lead them in casting off the occupying Romans, the corrupt Herod, and the Temple elite that have made worshipping God something only the richest among them can afford to do in the Temple.  But Jesus doesn’t do these things in the way they want it done.  Jesus does lead them in a revolt just not of the kind they are used to.  Jesus offers them a new Kingdom, one not of this world, and that is not what the people had expected.  The powers and principalities use this opportunity to seize him and to kill him.  That’s where our story so abruptly ends today. 

This week, this Holy Week, we will take time to examine different parts of this story.  On Maundy Thursday we will remember Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist, of his example of serving others in the washing of feet, and his final mandate, the greatest commandment given to his disciples.  We will strip the altar and leave the sanctuary bare.  We will keep vigil with Jesus as he prays in the Garden.  Good Friday, that most solemn of days, we will gather in the quiet and reflect on the sacrifice and pain, the humiliation and suffering that Jesus endures, and his death on the cross.  It is a day on which no Eucharist can be celebrated.  Death has taken our Jesus.  But once the sun has gone down on Holy Saturday.  Once that day has passed, we will gather as our forebears have gathered in the oldest of Christian observances.  We will kindle the new fire, we will ignite the light of Christ and we will hold vigil in the darkness until we proclaim with a loud voice the resurrection of our Savior.

The is no more important time for Christians than this one week, packed with emotion, with highs, lows, and the most dramatic conclusion of God’s story of salvation.  This week is special, and though I know our lives are busy, this is the time to set aside all the distractions.  This is the time, if there is no other time in your year, where you focus on one thing.  We have already begun our journey on that path to the empty tomb, and now every day counts.  Be mindful of that this week.  Take the time to meditate on the place in this story you find yourself.  Every day the daily office readings offer us something to ponder.  When we begin the Paschal Triduum on Maundy Thursday, steep yourself in those three difficult and holy days.  Take a part in the drama and observance of our faith.  This is it.  The cornerstone of our faith is found in this week to come.  This is Jesus’ story.  This is our story.  Take your place amongst it.