Palm Sunday 2018 (Read Lessons Here)
Our Palm Sunday liturgy has us live six days in Jerusalem in less than an hour.
We start with the Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem on the Sunday before the Passover, where the people shouted Hosannas, waved Palms branches in the air, and cast them carpeted the path before him…
We then move quickly to the Story of Jesus Passion – his suffering and death. We meet Jesus late Thursday night, after the Last Supper, when he goes to the Garden of Gethsemene to pray, and where, in the darkness of the night, he will be betrayed by the kiss of his friend Judas. The early Friday morning trial leads Jesus to the cross, where for six hours, he hung, suffered, and died. Before nightfall, Joseph of Arimathea takes down Jesus’ body and places it in a tomb carved out of the rock, and seals the opening with a large stone.
The days and hours between the Sunday and Friday of that first Holy Week were full of other stories – stories of confrontation as well as teaching on discipleship. For those of you reading the Gospel of Luke as part of our Good Book club, you read those from Luke’s perspective in these last few days.
It’s interesting to think through at the events of Holy Week and Jesus’ passion with the lens of community. Community is St. Michael’s theme this year. How do the events of Jesus’ passion highlight where community both fails and succeeds? How did Jesus’ followers exhibit community, and where did they fall short?
This Lent at St. Michael’s, Becki and I have focused our Sunday messages on “Practices of a Covenant Community,” those spiritual exercises are practices that strengthen us live fully into being the people God intends us to be. Over the last few weeks, we’ve looked at the practices of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. We’ve talked about the importance of weekly Sabbath worship and of dwelling in God’s word, by studying and meditating on scripture. We’ve explored self-denial, obedience, self-examination and confession. There are still many other spiritual disciplines we can explore, and all of them we could explore in greater depth.
But today is a day step back a bit, and to ask ourselves the simple question, “Why?”
Why? Why even engage in Spiritual exercises? Why take on the discipline of these practices to be a better disciple? The answer is not really a “why,” but a “who.”
We take on spiritual practices to train ourselves to become more like the one we follow, Jesus. As Jesus’ followers, Christians are, ideally, a community dedicated to living out not only what Jesus taught, but being the kind of people who exemplify Christ’s Body in the world today.
As a community, we are bound together by Christ’s Body and Blood. As Jesus said in the last supper, when he gave his disciples the cup of wine, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many.” Jesus’ blood ties us together as brothers and sisters in a community, willing to serve and sacrifice for each other, pouring ourselves out not only for those we know and love, but for the needs of the world.
During the passion narrative, we see how the community around Jesus, both the wider community, and even his closest disciples didn’t always live into this ideal.
- Peter, James, and John couldn’t stay awake to pray with Jesus
- The disciples all fled when the soldiers came.
- Peter denied him three times
- The crowd that had hailed Hosannas, now shouted “Crucify Him.”
- On the other hand, The women kept vigil with Jesus, looking on from a distance
- Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Council, risked his reputation to place Jesus’ body in his own tomb.
- And The disciples would continue to gather together in the upper room, supporting each other at least after the confusion of Jesus’ last days and hours.
- Eventually, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that small group of 12 apostles and the rest of the small community that had followed Jesus would spread the Good News around the world, so that Today, 2.2 Billion people from every tribe, people, language and nation, claim to be followers of Jesus.
Today, you and I stand as Jesus’ covenant community contemplating the harsh story of the death of the one we say we follow. It can make us ponder how good at being a covenant community you and I are, or could be.
Would I also have fled the garden when the soldiers came? Would I have denied Jesus out of fear? Would I have stayed at the cross?
Today, Do I stand with my brothers and sisters who face persecution? Do I claim Jesus as my brother and leader before others? Do I willingly enter into places of others’ suffering to offer solace and solidarity? Those opportunities come to us all the time. How do we respond?
Yesterday’s March for our Lives in Washington DC, where students and their adult supporters marched against gun violence, demonstrates the power and voice of community mobilized by a cause. News reports I read estimated there were 800,000 protesters in DC, the largest single day march for any cause, and there were over 800 other cities around the country holding marches that added thousands more.
Even if there are legitimate differences within our community about how we believe our government should be involved in gun-control legislation, we can all agree that our children should not be the sacrificial lambs to the brokenness of our society, where sin and evil prevails.
Jesus stood against violence, hate, and death — suffering himself so that we, as a community of his followers, might embrace the way of life and peace. He lived and died not just to let you and me find our own personal redemption, but to empower us to transform the world to reflect God’s Kingdom.
Our spiritual disciplines strengthen us to be the Body of Christ today, transforming the world.
So, today, as we gather around the cross, contemplating Jesus’ life, teachings, and sacrificial death, may we remember that all we do, and who we are as a community, is based on this one man, Jesus, our Lord. Amen.