Palm Sunday in Exile

Apr 5, 2020 | Exile Blog | 0 comments

Today is Palm Sunday of 2020 – a day that is marked by great rejoicing and, inevitably, great sorrow and fear.

In this year of 2020, we experience sorrow and fear in our separations and isolations; yet we can rejoice in our spiritual connection through worship, Even as we are separated by space, we are united in our love and devotion to our God, to his Son Jesus, and to each other through our Christian community.

So, let us begin in prayer: Blessed is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord. Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality. In your tender love for the human race, O God, you sent your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon him our nature, and suffer death upon the cross. Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering and also share in his resurrection, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Philippians 2: 5-11
Matthew 27: 11-54

Pastoral Prayer: O God, we pray that you enter into our worship and into our lives as you did in Jerusalem on that day long ago; we pray to you in a sort of exile on this day. While we are separated physically from our sisters and brothers in Christ, help us to feel the unity of our faith, the firmness of our conviction, and our shared love as members of your body, the Church. On this first day of Holy Week, enable us to offer a disciple’s praise whenever we meet Jesus Christ along our way.

Strengthen us to stand by Christ and to accept risk as an element of our faithfulness. As this week passes, as we follow Jesus in the way of the cross, speak to us through the events, remind us of your constant love, surprising grace, and caring power. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.Palm Sunday sermon 2020

The story of the first Palm Sunday is a familiar one to us all. It is a festive time in the city of Jerusalem. the tourists have been streaming in for days. The Feast of the Passover always brings big crowds to the capital city, and this year is no exception.

There is the added incentive in the rumors and stories that have been going around about this man who people claimed was the Messiah. They had heard that he was headed for Jerusalem too. The disciples of this Jesus have been mingling with the pilgrims. They have proudly told anyone who would listen about Jesus. Enthusiasm is mounting and spreading rapidly on this feast day. The pilgrims, in their excitement, join in by spreading their outer garments in the path of this new-found hero. Palms have always been a symbol of a conqueror’s victory. Today they are being waved around too, and excitement is continuing to mount. The shouts of “hosanna” are heard.

It is very tempting and very easy, to try and recapture the joy of that parade and, with glad hearts, to welcome the Messiah. “All glory laud and honor” we sing triumphantly —( well perhaps in other years )– we sing in an attempt to recreate the spirit of that triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

We traditionally call it the triumphal entry, but it is really not a triumph at all. The momentary excitement soon passes, and we are soon faced with the deep undercurrents present in Jerusalem on this day. There is a very old document, and tradition says that it was written by a bystander at the gate of Jerusalem on the say that Jesus entered. The document says, “When I looked upon the face of Jesus, there were no signs of triumph or gladness. He sat with his head bent forward, his eyes downcast, and his face sad.”

The true theme of Palm Sunday, after all, is said and done, is not gladness but grim determination. The true symbols are not cheers, but tears.

We know that, within a week, the very same disciples and followers who had so proudly shouted the praises … those same disciples had scattered in terror. We know that the same people who on Sunday shouted “Hosanna” were equally eager, on Friday, to shout “crucify!”

On that Palm Sunday, I think, the crowd and even the disciples had not really figured out who this Jesus was – they only had a hint of what his mission in life was really all about – what his coming to Jerusalem meant – and what their allegiance to him was going to cost them in the end. They had traveled with Jesus, they had listened and learned from him, but they were still in the dark about what it all meant.

The nation of Israel had been watching for a long time for the appearance of the promised Messiah. But, they were looking either for a mighty military leader who was going to drive the Romans away, or, if not that, then for a king who would establish a secure kingdom that would mean riches and privilege and a life of ease for everybody. In either case, they thought of the Messiah as one who would work great wonders for their benefit. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, all those hopes were bound up in enthusiasm. But, in just five short days, the truth became clear. The Messiah that they had imagined and this Jesus of Nazareth were worlds apart. When they sensed what his coming to Jerusalem really meant … what it meant for them and what is meant for him – the disciples scattered, and the jubilant welcome changed to shouts of condemnation.

Things are no different today, I guess. Millions of people through the centuries have looked at Jesus, and they have seen in him what they wanted to see. People identify most clearly with the joy and the hosannas and miss entirely what comes afterward. Then, as now, the body of the faithful is filled with people who love to wave the palms, but who want to hide the cross.

Our challenge, in a normal year, will come on Easter Sunday when the faithful will be joined by the less—than-faithful. The churches fill with those who want the joy and the triumph without any of the discipline and the work of discipleship.
On an invalid’s bed, there lies the poor, wizened body of a woman who has gone on living for years and years. Her whole geography is now limited to that bed. Why has this happened? A faith grounded in the joys of Palm Sunday and Easter alone has no answer for that.

Or, there is a high school student I know. She is an incredibly lovely girl. She has been taking cocaine and now she thinks she is pregnant. She is in for some terrible scenes at home. There will be lots of bitter tears. She turns to you for help. How can a Palm Sunday/Easter faith help her?

When pain and sorrow and sin pile themselves into a black mass and roll over us and those we love, then a Palm Sunday/Easter faith is just not enough. That kind of faith supports us in joyful times, but the answers for the dark times are just not there. Instead, we have the secure faith that comes to us when we walk with Jesus through this holiest and most horrible of weeks.