I love Palm Sunday. When I was in Adelaide Australia in a downtown church I regularly took park in an ecumenical palm procession at the Catholic cathedral one block away from the church I served. We processed around a city block waving palms and singing. And because there are palm trees in Adelaide, we had so many large palms with which to decorate the church. I love Palm Sunday at Ascension, with palms around the altar, with palms in our hands processing in and around the sanctuary with singing. I love seeing the annual palm procession down the Mt of Olives and into Jerusalem, following near to where Jesus actually was on the donkey, with crowds of Passover pilgrims shouting out Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest. Hosanna – the word – is both a word of praise, and a prayer – Save us, or save now. What an appropriate word to shout right now around the earth -God, save us. Save us now. Sometimes in past sermons I have reflected on what Jesus disciples might have been thinking in that procession. They must have got carried away in all the excitement as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, as kings did when they were bringing a message of peace. I wonder what they thought Jesus might do in Jerusalem. Even though Jesus had told his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die, I don’t think that was on their minds at all. But I’m sure that in the midst of the excitement and praise, it was on Jesus’ mind. In Luke’s account of the Palm Procession, when Jesus sees the city of Jerusalem ahead of him, he stops to weep, lamenting that Jerusalem will not accept the kind of peace that he comes to bring, and in time Jerusalem will be destroyed.
Palm Sunday is also called Sunday of the Passion, the Sunday that leads us into Holy Week, and especially Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. I’m wearing a red sweater, a gift of love from Vicar, as in the ELCA the color for this Sunday is red. If we were able to be in our sanctuary today, one of the red paraments on the altar has palms on it. I bought this lovely palm cross from my local Giant Eagle. I have not seen one like this before. Dried palm fronds are fixed to a wooden cross. It is the cross I carried in the palm procession down my street being filmed on Thursday, and then I will carry it down my street on Palm Sunday itself. And I like how this Palm cross has an Easter lily attached, reminding us where this journey will ultimately lead.
The three year lectionary moves us across the various accounts of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem. There are actually 4 accounts. We follow the Matthew reading this year. And we could attach the one from John, which is the only one to mention palms. The others have branches, probably olive branches on the Mount of Olives. And interesting that the olive branch represents peace. But every year on this Sunday we have the same epistle reading from Philippians chapter two. It is what is known as the Christ hymn. St Paul included what could have been well known to his readers, a very early hymn about Jesus emptying himself, not using the powers he could have, humbling himself so much to endure death on a cross. Crucifixion was designed to be the ultimate shaming, used by the Romans as a deterrent for those they saw as insurgents and terrorists. Jesus wasn’t that. He was innocent of all charges, though he did highly annoy the religious leaders of the time who took him to Pilate, who sentenced him to death.
When I see the lily on the cross, I am reminded of what we will be celebrating in a week’s time. We could be tempted to go straight from the jubilation of Palm Sunday to the joy of Easter Sunday, and not have to face the suffering in between. But then there is the cross, this journey of Jesus into the deepest darkness, for us, for the world. I think especially this year, as we ourselves and the whole world has this dark virus cloud over it, we will be deeply blessed to walk with Jesus the way of the cross, to be with Jesus disciples in their anxiety, their fear of the unknown, their prayerfulness, their blaming, their wanting it all to go away, their wanting to hide, their deep grief. Starting tomorrow, and through to Thursday, there will be a daily scripture for you to read and reflect on – I will give the reference on one call – it will come on an email – and will be also being read by fellow Ascensionites on YouTube – via the website and and Facebook. And on Maundy Thursday there will be both written instruction and YouTube to guide you on an evening of remembering – remembering the original Passover, and the meal Jesus had with his anxious disciples, including the one who would betray him, and remembering Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and staying with him for a while to pray. You might also be sleepy then, as were the three disciples Jesus asked to pray with him. During the night, we have a sign up for a prayer vigil, with one hour slots. You can wake up from sleep. Or stay up late to take a slot. On Good Friday there will be a music YouTube, a hymn, a video of the stations of the cross from inside our sanctuary, and an invitation to read one of the passion accounts. And then on Saturday- Holy Saturday – to ponder Jesus’ body in the tomb. We will get to Easter Sunday soon enough – but dwell – dwell on this journey to the cross, and then with the Christ hymn we can celebrate Jesus rising from that deep darkness, bringing light and life. And through this week, be prayerful for the world at the foot of the cross.
This Palm Sunday we were going to have a baptism of Colin Beauchamp, son of Shannon and Brian, brother of Caroline, grandson of Nancy and Orin Sheumaker. Colin will be baptized at a later time. I’m sorry we can’t have the baptism today with palms waving, thinking of Jesus journey to the cross and then an empty tomb. That is the journey that Colin will be baptized into. Please pray for Colin and his family, and remember your own baptism into Christ. Hosanna. Hosanna. Amen.