I have always struggled with Palm Sunday. Theologically, liturgically, and practically, every year, Palm Sunday feels like whiplash to me. The problem is right there at the top of your bulletin. While we call it “Palm Sunday” colloquially, in truth today is “The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday.” We might walk into it with an expectation of only hearing the shouts of joyful Hosannas, but the reality is that before it’s over, the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is going to catch us all short. One year, back in Alabama, Keith and I made the decision to avoid it all together. We just didn’t read the Passion narrative, and instead invited everyone at Saint Paul’s to join us as we walked the whole week with Jesus. Of course, that didn’t happen, and the vast majority of the congregation came to Easter services having not heard all that lead up to the miracle of the resurrection. For a few years, we skipped the Passion Gospel in its normal spot, went through the whole service, and then returned to the spot where the Palm Sunday liturgy started to hear it at the very end. I found that experience to be quite moving. It gave enough space between the “Hosannas” and the “Crucify Hims” to not make my neck as sore, and, until two years ago, I would have told you it was my preferred pattern for The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday.
After two years of disrupted Holy Weeks due to COVID, I am now fully committed to the Palm Sunday liturgy as it is printed in the Prayer Book. I’ve come to realize that the whiplash is a necessary part of Holy Week. It helps us in our own journey with Jesus to see that the same crowds that shouted “Hosanna” would, in no time at all, be crying out “Crucify him.” Each of us has those same crowds within us, alternating between the “Hosannas” of living into the vision of the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus brought to earth and the “Crucify hims” of a life lived in fear, self-preservation, and sin. The reason that The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday makes us so uncomfortable is because it is the story of our own lives – vacillating, sometimes minute by minute, between joyfully following Christ and selfishly following our own desires. And so, at the entrance of the nave, in the moment of transition between joy and sorrow, we stop and pray, that this disjointed path we walk from a triumphal entry on Palm Sunday to trudging toward death on the cross on Good Friday might be for us the way of life and peace. In that prayer, we confront those two very distinct parts within ourselves, seeking to follow Christ all the way to the cross, yet knowing that like Peter and the rest of the disciples, it is very likely we will stop short in fear, in discomfort, in hope of another way.
For the first time in three years, we have the chance to walk the Way of the Cross together. From waving palm branches this morning, to the institution of the Lord’s Supper, foot washing, and the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday, to somber prayers before the cross on Good Friday, to the Great Noise and the joyful proclamation of Easter at the Vigil, to brass, eggs, and alleluias on Easter morning, I hope that all of you will take the opportunity, in-person or online, to walk with us through the full range of emotions that this week will bring. If the last two years have taught me anything, however, it’s that this just might not be possible, for any number of reasons. If you can’t walk to and through the tomb with us this week, I hope that the whiplash of this morning will be enough for you to feel the emotional roller coaster that Holy Week invites us to experience. I pray that as the week goes on, you’ll think back on the joyful “hosannas”, the frightful “crucify hims”, and the sorrowful last words of Jesus from the cross and see in them the very path of life, holding them in your hearts with joyful expectation of what is to come next Sunday as we celebrate the resurrection.
Dear friends in Christ, this is The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday and the entrance into a most Holy Week. I pray that you might find a way, anyway, to walk in the way of the cross this week, and that through the grace of God, it might be for you, nothing less than the way of life and peace. Amen.