Palm Sunday

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Matthew 21:1-11

Sometime, not so many years ago, though I’m not sure when exactly, the Church decided to change the name of this day from “Palm Sunday” to “Palm Sunday / The Sunday of the Passion.”

Why? Again, I don’t know for sure, but my suspicion is that somebody checked the attendance figures for Holy Week and realized that the crowds are there for Palm Sunday and Easter, but that few participate in the events and observances of the rest of the week. And so we went from the triumphal entry to the Risen Lord – from shouting “Hosanna” to singing the Hallelujah Chorus – with no idea of what happened in between.

Or, more likely, we knew all too well what happened in between, and simply chose to avoid it.

And so it was decided that if the people wouldn’t come to the Passion, then the Passion would come to them—on this Sunday. That is why the normal, usual, lengthy gospel reading today would have had nothing at all to do with the passing parade and palms. Instead, it would have been an account of the Last Supper, the trial, the crucifixion and the burial of Jesus, all a part of what we refer to as Holy Week and “the Passion of Christ.” We put all of Holy Week into this one day so people would at least get a taste of the last week and hardship and sacrifice and Passion of Jesus for his people, without the inconvenience of having to return each day and walk with Jesus along the way, each step of the way to the cross.

Well, not this year. Not today. Not here. At least for this year, there will be no Passion Reading today. The only gospel you’ll hear is the one we just heard about the Triumphal Entry, because that is what happened today, a long time ago in Jerusalem. That is what is supposed to happen today. That is our focus today. Jesus enters the city with people cheering, celebrating this one who could be messiah, the hope of Israel, the chosen one of God. It is the first day of the last week of Jesus’ life. A life given for the love of the world.

For more—for what happens on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday and Saturday—you have to be willing to come back, to invest yourselves in this week and in Christ’s Passion – his passion for you, his love for you. You have to love him back. You can observe the events of the week, or not. You can devote yourself to following Jesus, walking with him, this week, or not. But you don’t get it all today as a matter of convenience.

What happens on Palm Sunday has to do with the royalty of Christ and the recognition of Christ as king by his people. What happens the rest of this week has much to do with the loyalty of his followers. How quickly did the cry of the crowd turn from “Hosanna, blessed is he,” to “Crucify him.” And just as quickly his disciples and closest friends – those who were happy to walk beside him in the pomp and circumstance of the great Jerusalem parade – were nowhere to be found when the rubber met the road on the way to the cross.

And so it is for us, the disciples of Jesus today, when we instinctively run away, just like the disciples of long ago, from the events of this most dreadful week. When we disappear, not to be seen again until Easter Day, when it safe again—when the hard stuff is over. Every year, I feel so badly for Jesus, because every year, history repeats itself. In his greatest hour of need, his disciples dessert him and leave him to walk the journey to the cross alone. But he does it again and again, mostly alone, for the love of us.

But, be aware: Holy Week is not and can never be two days of celebration, a week of Sundays with nothing in the middle. Because so much happens this week. Did you know that one- third of all the material in the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus has to do with what happened during that last week of his life? One-half of the gospel of John has to do with what we call Holy Week. We do ourselves and our Lord a disservice if we shorten the week into the two days of Palm Sunday and Easter.

It’s one thing to hear the story of the Passion of our Lord; it’s a whole other thing to live it, to walk with him through it. Painful? Yes. Guilt inducing? Yes. Sorrowful ? Yes. Frightening? Yes. And we know all that. That’s why we try so hard to avoid it, to run away from it. But we also know we can’t avoid those feelings – not really – whether we walk with Jesus through this Holy Week or not.

The difference is, until we’re able to walk that walk with Jesus, and until we’re willing, in faith and devotion, to risk the pain and the sorrow and the guilt and the fear, there isn’t much Jesus can do to help us bear the weight of such an awesome load.

And yet, therein, my brothers and sisters, lies not only the good news of Holy Week, but the whole meaning and purpose of the cross and the joy of Easter Sunday morning. Because when we are ready to make that faithful journey with him, to kneel with Jesus at Gethsemane, to stand beside him at his trial, to walk with him that dark, dusty road to Calvary, when we stand at the foot of the cross, then he will, willingly, take all our burden – all the fear, all the pain, all the sorrow, and, especially, all the guilt – upon himself and offer himself to God as a perfect sacrifice, so that on Easter morning we, with Christ, will arise to a new life and a new hope and a new understanding of what Easter is all about.

So, today, the journey of Holy Week begins, with palms and pomp and hosannas. But there is still a long way to go. The worst of it and the best of it is yet to come. The catch is you can’t live into one without living into the other.

The opportunity and the burden is here, this week.

May God give us all the courage to walk with Christ the way of Christ, which is the way of the cross, which is the way of the resurrection.

Let the Journey begin.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.