Happy Holy Week?: Palm Sunday

Happy Holy Week?: Palm Sunday

Year A, Palm Sunday- Liturgy of the Palms
April 2, 2023

Year A: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11;Matthew 26:14-27:66

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“Happy Holy Week?” 

Here we are. Holy Week. What’s the thing to say — do you tell people “Happy Holy Week?” 

It reminds me of one General Seminary professor chastising another for what would seem like a standard greeting of Happy Easter. But, instead, he advised her she was supposed to say “Blessed Easter.” 

I’d be thrilled if someone wished me a Happy Holy Week or Easter, especially if they seek to understand the completeness and complexity of what happens during this week. 

Here’s a thumbnail version of Holy Week. 

We wave palms in the air and hail Jesus as King, the long-awaited Messiah who will save us from our oppressors. 

Then we change our minds and scream that those very oppressors should crucify him. 

We share a loving last supper with Jesus; he washes our feet. 

Jesus begs us to stay with him; we promise we will, then we don’t. We sneak out after dinner and betray him. We abandon him; he’s arrested and beaten. He forgives us; then we run away. Then Jesus is killed; we lay him in the tomb and weep; we go back for him, then he’s gone, then he’s back, and then — wait! — he’s not dead at all. 

No wonder we need readings and songs to begin to tell the story. No wonder Holy Week can feel overwhelming. 

A lot is going on liturgically at this time of year. Sometimes, the liturgy and the scripture are hard to understand. Maybe it’s not so surprising that the world prefers brightly colored Easter eggs and bunnies. 

My own view is that, underneath it all, the Holy Spirit is gathering God’s people to witness to Christ and to receive Christ. 

Today, we gather together as a family of faith to celebrate Palm Sunday. This sacred day marks the triumphant entry of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, into Jerusalem, and it serves as a powerful reminder of the journey of hope and love that lies at the very heart of our faith. As we reflect on the Gospel of Matthew, let us take a moment to consider what Palm Sunday means to us in our lives today. 

On that fateful day in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the city on the back of a humble donkey, a symbol of peace and humility. The people who lined the streets to welcome him waved palm branches and spread their cloaks on the ground, shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). This event, which we commemorate today, is a testament to the transformative power of hope and love. 

The journey of Jesus to Jerusalem was fraught with danger and uncertainty. Yet, he willingly and courageously embarked on that journey, guided by a deep and abiding love for all of humanity. Jesus knew his entry into Jerusalem would ultimately lead to his death on the cross, but he chose to walk that path, paving the way for our salvation and the world’s redemption. 

We are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, embracing a life of hope and love, even in the face of adversity. We are called to be peacemakers, to seek justice, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Fifty-five years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached his final sermon at the National Cathedral, our cathedral, where he passionately advocated for love, justice, and equality. Just as Jesus’ triumphant entry in Jerusalem symbolizes the ultimate victory of love over hatred, Dr. King’s unwavering message reminds us of our collective responsibility to continue his work, bridging divides and pursuing justice. 

So, as we wave our palm branches today, may we also wave our banners of hope and love, renewing our commitment to be agents of change in the world. Empathy, understanding, and solidarity transcend the boundaries of race, religion, and nationality in that world. 

Jesus was undoubtedly an agent of change. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he went directly to the temple and drove out the money changers and merchants who had turned a house of prayer into a den of thieves (Matthew 21:12-13). In doing so, he demonstrated that our faith is not passive but active and engaged. 

I pray that we serve as Christ calls us to serve. I pray that we bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord – that we receive as King, the servant who gives us everything — his blood, his flesh, his breath, his spirit, his bread, and wine. 

There’s no way to contain the mystery of Holy Week in a greeting card. We try to convey the immensity of the Passion through even the richness of our liturgy. 

We’ll have the traditional foot washing on Maundy Thursday, the lamentation of the Good Friday service, and we’ll go gloriously into Easter, kindling the first fire, lighting the Paschal candle, and singing the word we haven’t for many, many weeks. 

There is something glorious about this week, especially the Easter Vigil. And we’ll experience it all. 

But, remember. We are not alone. Jesus is drawing us nearer to each other, nearer to God, and nearer, always, to the tomb. 

We must stay here with him. Remain with him. Pray with him. Knowing that the end is near and with the end comes a new beginning. Amen.