Deacon Sue Nebel
Palm Sunday. The beginning of Holy Week. A marker event in the life of the Church. We do things differently on this day. Today, instead of coming into the building through various doors to gather for worship in this space, we went to Puhlman Hall. A place where we usually gather after the Sunday liturgy, not before. A large crowd of us gathered there. Noisy conversation, excited children—a sense of anticipation of what was to come. After the palms were blessed and distributed, we headed out the door, parading along the sidewalk. Singing “All Glory, Laud and Honor” and waving our palms. We must have been quite a sight. People walking or driving along Wilmette Avenue couldn’t help but notice us. Those familiar with Christian tradition probably nodded their heads, saying to themselves, ‘It must be Palm Sunday.’ Others may have simply wondered, ‘What in the world are those people doing?’
Good question. What in the world are we doing? We are remembering. We are remembering the story in the Gospel lesson that we just heard. Jesus entering Jerusalem, riding on a colt. Hailed by his followers as a king. To remember something is to recall it, to relive it. To remember is to re-member, to become part of it. We do it again and again in our lives. Remembering, reliving events. Experiencing them again in all their detail. This desire to remember propels us to go on pilgrimagesto religious or historical sites. To visit significant places in our family history. We want to be in those places. be part of them, if only for a short time. Claim their part in our own story.
As we come to Palm Sunday and look ahead to Holy Week, we begin a process of re-membering. Becoming part of the story of the last days of Jesus’ life. We remembered Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with our own parade and rejoicing. We will do it again later in this service when we hear the Passion Gospel. We will hear it read by several people, taking the roles of people in the story. We will have our own active part. At the beginning of the service, we joined in in acclaiming Jesus as king. In the Passion Gospel, we will be part of the crowd demanding that Jesus be crucified. As we move forward through Holy Week, we will continue to re-member. A meal together. Foot-washing. Standing at the foot of the Cross
The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is a joyous, seemingly triumphant event. And yet, in the version from Luke that we heard this morning, there is an ominous note. In the crowd are some Pharisees, members of the group that Jesus has confronted time and time again in his ministry. Responding to their criticism, their arguments, their warnings. Here in the midst this celebration of Jesus as king, they call out to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” I think this is more than the usual objection raised by these leaders who want to preserve Jewish laws. Maintain the status quo. I think the Pharisees are warning Jesus, “You are doing something dangerous.” It is highly unlikely that this jublilant crowd, proclaiming Jesus as king has gone unnoticed by the Roman authorities. The Gospel writer focuses on Jesus and his followers. But is not hard to imagine soldiers or other officials of the ruling government lurking around the edges of this scene. Taking note of the crowd, the words. The potential threat to their power.
Our Palm Sunday parade this morning was a kind of public event. We moved outside of our building and processed to the church in demonstration of our faith. We didn’t have to worry if the Wilmette police were hanging around to monitor our activity. We were claiming a set of priorities, different from much of the world. But we were hardly posing a threat to civic order. Yet, this day has its own kind of ominous, dark tone to it. The events in the world around us, especially those of this past week. The use of chemical weapons in Syria. The military action taken by the United States in response. Heightened tension in the Mideast. A sense of uncertainty, even fear, about what might happen permeates the festive mood. In the past few days, as I anticipated what we would do here this morning, I wondered to myself, ‘How can we participate in this joyful event in an atmosphere of concern and worry?’ Then I realized that people have been doing this for years, for generations. Remembering. Being part of. Entering into the story of Jesus, the stories of Holy Week. The entry into Jerusalem. The last meal with the disciples. Betrayal. Arrest and trial. Death. People have done this in times of peace and prosperity. They have done it in the face of upheaval and conflict in the world. They have done it in spite of sadness, loss, or pain in their lives. They have been faithful. Journeying in solidarity with Jesus, as he moves through the final days of his life to the Cross.
Today, we join with the long line of Christians who have made this journey throughout the years. Today, we—the faithful in this time and in this place--carry the tradition forward. Holy Week is here. Let the journey begin.
Palm Sunday; Year A
Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 19:28-40
Passion Gospel: Matthew 26:14-27:66