Find the Palm Sunday lessons here.
Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020 (Pandemic)
Those who passed by Jesus hanging on the cross derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
Palm Sunday, the Sunday of the Passion, has always been one of my favorite days of the church year.
I love how we gather outside and march on this day, in confusion and disorder; we wave our palms and we sing out of sync with one another while parading into church, in front of God and all passersby. My dad used to have me play my trumpet every Palm Sunday. I’m not sure my playing helped or contributed to the chaos and the clamor of the day…
It’s a very different Palm Sunday today—I don’t need to tell you. You’re at home and Rob and I are here by ourselves.
Thank you ever so much for sending in your photos—Making that slide show yesterday was a wonderful way to end my week.
I miss you all, today more than ever, when we should be parading and shouting hosanna, I feel the weight of our separation. I missed seeing you laugh as we would have tried to sing in tune, I even missed those who might have grumbled about this unruly tradition of ours….I miss you all more than you know.
Even as a young pre-teen, I remember loving this day.
And I’ll just say, I had this passion stuff all figured out. Palm Sunday and the glorious passion of our Lord seemed so …natural, so…textbook.
The swing of emotions on Palm Sunday captures who we humans are so perfectly to me—within the space of an hour we seekers of God welcome Jesus, hailing hosannas and waving palms, and then we turn on him, shouting, Crucify him!
We are fickle beings, we like winners and will turn on a dime against a loser. As a kid I was sure I’d have been one of those folks hurling questions at Jesus, but not in a mocking way.
I would implore Jesus, “why not come down from the cross—you need to show them you are the Christ!”
In my young thinking, I also understood why Jesus didn’t come down. I knew that the win Jesus was going for meant he could not avoid this shameful death penalty. Jesus’ win would be over death itself— I knew he had to die so that he could be raised and raise us with him.
BUT—I had one more bit of logic to offer the world. This idea lodged in my head and I just had to share it—
Mine was the logic of a young girl who couldn’t stand to see someone in pain, who refused to let Jesus go through such a horrible thing as crucifixion. I was sure others needed to hear my reasoning. So…. in Sunday School on Palm Sunday, I bravely told my class what they must have been missing and needed to hear.
Now before I enlighten you on that, I have to tell you about this great actor from long ago, she lived before even I was born. Her name was Ethel Barrymore. I don’t know if I ever saw one of her films, but I read a quote of hers several years ago, and I liked her immediately. Ms. Barrymore said one of the smartest things I’ve ever heard. She said,
“You grow up the day you have the first real laugh at yourself.”
For me, I think that growing up needed to begin on that Palm Sunday years ago, when I decided to enlighten my class—but, well let’s just say that at the time it was not a laughing matter to me.
I was 11 years old and we were living in Jacksonville AL. My family attended St. Luke’s Episcopal church. One of my more no-nonsense Sunday school teachers then was Dr. Mary Martha Thomas. She was a university professor of history at Jacksonville State University.
Dr. Thomas was serious, and smart, and intimidating. But being the eager student I was, well, still am I suppose, I was ready to engage in our class discussions no matter what…..as I did on this Palm Sunday in Sunday School class…
and the response I received still resonates with me to this day. I offered my answer to Jesus’ suffering on the cross, saying, it could not have been so bad after all, as Jesus was God incarnate, and all powerful himself. Jesus could just reject, or dismiss the pain.
Well, this was the wrong thing to say and I knew it right away. I vividly recall Dr. Thomas pausing, a long pause. I still shudder as I remember her wide eyes staring at me. I can to this day hear her scoffing at my childish suggestion.
Then Dr. Thomas blasted me with The Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chaceldon’s explanation of the nature of Christ. that Jesus was both human and divine, (he was 100% human, so of course he felt the awful pain). She looked at me with what seemed like disdain, and dismissed as heresy any belief that Jesus’ crucifixion was not really a sacrifice.
Understandably, I was certain at the time that this teacher, Mary Martha, was not properly named. She just could not have been named after Jesus’ companions, Mary and Martha— as she lacked piety, hospitality, and doubt.
Yet, upon reflection, I know that this wonderful teacher helped me to grow up, as those who challenge our beliefs do. She taught me to look beyond what I want to see or hear, and to open my eyes and ears to God.
Now no longer a child, but still infant in my understanding, I enter this time of the passion each year with humility.
I try to remember that those who followed and ministered with Jesus, did not know how this terrible time would end. Yours and mine, our vantage point is different, we know about Easter.
The disciples, Jesus’ friends, the crowd shouting hosanna, none of them knew what was going to happen.
Their leader was going to die an awful death.
They could do nothing about it.
They didn’t know what they would do next.
As we enter Holy Week and the Passion, this year, we find ourselves closer than ever to these same feelings of insecurity—
we can imagine more clearly
the kind of uncertainty the disciples felt,
as we are in terribly uncertain times ourselves right now.
If we were in ordinary time,
we would know what comes next,
we would know what to do.
We’d made plans for church services this Holy Week, washing one another’s feet, stripping the altar,
we’d have our Easter celebrations and egg hunts.
Now, it is different.
Now we are having to adapt, and make other plans.
We will have to try things a new way and concede that we don’t know how all this will go down.
This pandemic has left us reeling.
The uneasy emotions we feel are valid.
We are anxious for those who go to work to help the sick, we’re sad for those who live alone,
we are worried for those who’ve lost their jobs
and we feel terrible for those with sick or dying loved ones.
My brother in law shared with me a picture of a church’s sign for today that said, “Jesus rode an ass into Jerusalem. Keep yours at home.”
Some people are just funny— But the fact that we are having to stay home is also anxious producing.
“Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble.” Our psalmist cries out today, “my eye is consumed with sorrow,
and also my throat and my belly.”
This we can relate to! This makes all the sense in the world to us in the time of the coronavirus.
My 11-year-old self would wish it all away and work to find an easy answer to all this madness. But now more than ever I know I must tell her to be careful of easy answers, beware of finding something or someone to blame.
I’d like to tell her not to run away from this.
The experience of our own struggles is a great teacher.
Brene Brown tells us that letting ourselves feel these hard emotions is crucial, mandatory to our becoming people who have empathy for others.
“Every time we honor our own struggle and the struggle of others by responding with empathy, the healing that results affects all of us.”
Most of all, entering into Holy Week and the passion of Christ, I would tell my young self, as I tell myself now and tell you, my friends, that this Jesus we love, he suffered, he suffered mightily.
Jesus bore the cross so that we can know, in our own suffering, and in our death one day, we are not alone.
There is no suffering we will experience or death we will know, that Jesus cannot hold in his own suffering arms.
“As for me,” the psalmist continues, “I trust in you, Lord. *
I have said, “You are my God. My times are in your hand; *
rescue me from the hand of my enemies..Make your face to shine up.on your servant, *
and in your loving-kindness save me.”
I am praying we embrace this kind of trust, this hearty faith of the psalmist;
For I know it is not in my own righteousness, or in my logic, that I’ll be saved. We’ll be saved because of God’s gift of grace, in Jesus’ loving sacrifice.
Thanks be to God.