This is my sermon for March 24 (Palm Sunday), preached at New Spirit Community Church.
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” -Luke 19:28-40
Today is Palm Sunday, the day when we come to the end of our Lenten journey and prepare to walk with Jesus through Holy Week.
Tomorrow is also the start of Passover, which commemorates the most famous ‘procession’ or ‘pilgrimage’ that is recorded in the Bible. When Moses led God’s people out of Egypt and into freedom.
Like Passover, Palm Sunday celebrates people journeying toward freedom together. It’s a time to celebrate liberation, and to proclaim our loyalty to a God that can topple rulers—Egyptian or Roman– and set oppressed people free.
In this passage, we see Jesus entering into Jerusalem for the final time, before he is crucified. Luke tells us that Jesus knew what would happen to him and described his death shortly after the feeding of five-thousand.
But he didn’t try to sneak into the city anonymously. Instead, he made this bold, somewhat silly entrance, mocking the ceremonial processions of the Roman occupiers. Instead of hundreds of Roman soldiers wearing capes, marching into occupied Jerusalem on horses, one shabbily dressed man rode in on a donkey. It’s as if he’s saying to Rome “really? This is what you’re afraid of? One poor man riding a donkey? Is the Roman Empire really so fragile that it can be taken down by one person that’s not afraid to tell the truth? One person that refuses to play by its rules?”
But the most amazing thing about this procession isn’t what Jesus was wearing, or what he was riding. It’s how the people responded to him. Unlike Roman processions, which were a show of strength that was used to keep the people of Israel in line, this procession is joyful and approachable. It’s something that you want to be a part of. Instead of hiding in fear, the people run to Jesus, shouting Hosanna! And laying their cloaks down for his donkey to walk on.
The Roman processions used fear to show their strength, but Jesus’ procession used love.
Last week, Rev. Jim spoke about the ‘embarrassing, wildly public love’ that Mary of Bethany showed for Jesus when she washed his feet with her hair. That same kind of wild, embarrassing love is present in this story, not just in Jesus, but in the crowds that are cheering for him. These people who came to cheer for Jesus– and to walk beside him– were joining him in a risky, countercultural act. They were openly proclaiming their love and loyalty to a person who stood in open opposition to Roman authorities.
That’s why the Pharisees– fearing for their own safety– told Jesus ““Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” They were afraid that the Romans would punish the people for this procession—this protest. They knew that the people were putting themselves at risk by walking with Jesus.
To the crowds in Jerusalem, joining Jesus in his procession is a revolutionary act of love. By being willing to walk with Jesus into Jerusalem, they are willing to—for a time—share his burden.
But of course, we know that it doesn’t end that way. In the end, the people in the crowd aren’t willing to share Jesus’ burden with him, they don’t follow him all the way to the cross. In the end, Jesus is abandoned by nearly everyone, except his mother, a handful of the women disciples and maybe John.
It’s easy for us to judge the crowds in Jerusalem for abandoning Jesus so quickly after they shouted Hosanna and waved their palm fronds. The whole thing seems so fickle. People could be walking with Jesus one week, and leaving him to die at the cross alone a week later.
But I think we’ve all, at some point, been like the crowds in Jerusalem. We have all loved someone so much that we thought we’d follow them to the ends of the earth, only to abandon them when it got to the hardest part of their journey. I don’t think it’s fair to say that the people at Palm Sunday didn’t really mean what they said, that they didn’t really love Jesus. I think that it’s just hard—really hard—for us as humans to walk with each other through the most painful moments of our lives.
But that walking together is exactly what Jesus calls us to do. It is exactly the reason why we are called to be in a church community. To walk with each other in our sometimes painful, difficult journeys. To stand in solidarity with people who are facing oppression and injustice.
Like the crowds in Jerusalem, we might find that hard. But unlike the people at Palm Sunday, we know that Jesus isn’t asking us to follow him to the cross, he’s asking us to follow him to resurrection. And that means that no matter how big the injustices we have to face seem, death never has the final word.
This knowledge gives us the ability to walk with each other through pain and suffering, not abandoning each other when the road gets rough because we already know how the story is going to end. And it ends in resurrection.
A year ago, I was a first year Masters in Divinity student, preparing to serve a ministerial internship. Like all of the other first years, I spent a long time researching churches and nonprofits, going on interviews and talking with former interns about their experiences. When I was talking over my options with my husband, I told him that New Spirit kept coming up for me as a place that could be a good fit. When he asked me why, I responded with something like “they seem like people that would be willing to walk with me.”
That seemed important at the time. I felt like I needed a community that would honor my Catholic faith, and my call to ordination equally and that would be a supportive place for me to discern my future. I suspected that New Spirit was a community that would be willing to accept me as I am, and join me on my personal pilgrimage, even the parts of it that seem difficult or lonely or confusing.
And I was right. You have been so willing to walk with me on my sort of eccentric, hard to explain, sometimes painful journey as a Catholic woman called to ordination. I don’t believe that I could have found any other community more willing to accept me as I am, and join me on my journey. I think it would have been hard to find any other community where people are more willing to accept each member as they are, and join them on their journey.
I think that a lot of New Spirit’s willingness to walk with people on their own personal pilgrimages comes from your history of building bridges between people of different denominations, sexualities, and cultures. Being the sort of radically diverse community that New Spirit strives to be means walking with each other on journeys that that you never would have been on otherwise. For straight members at New Spirit, it might mean discovering how ingrained homophobia is in our culture—and in many of our faith traditions. For white people at New Spirit, it might mean learning about ways to undo the racism in our society and in our own lives.
Either way, by accompanying each other on our journeys, we are able to experience a sort of resurrection moment. Like the crowds at Palm Sunday, we can discover that the best way to stand in opposition to oppressive structures is by committing acts of revolutionary love.
As we prepare to walk with Jesus through Holy Week, let’s remember to walk in solidarity with each other—knowing that we are walking to resurrection. And we can only get there together.