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April 5, 2020

Palm Sunday Meditation

Palm Sunday Meditation

Matthew 21: 1-11 and Matthew 26: 14 – 27:66

April 5, 2020

Ruth Chadwick Moore

So what can you say about a parade when you can’t reenact it in the sanctuary with children and parishioners and joyful music? Not much really. Still, I hope you waved your palms (or branches or scarves or your hand palms) and paraded around your living rooms this morning during our opening hymn.

There is a post on Facebook that says, “This is the Lentiest Lent I have ever Lented,” and as a colleague of mine reminded me, this may be the Holiest Holy Week we have ever Holied. Today, Palm Sunday, begins Holy Week, when we go from parade, to Last Supper, to the cross and then hope expectantly for the resurrection we know is to come. The worship plans we made months ago have had to be tossed out the window. The worship traditions that we have counted on to make this week work are impossible to carry out. We are inventing, and learning technologies so we can continue to worship, to communicate with you, and meet as a staff and session. And since we are streaming our worship, I am now on the Internet sobbing after worship last week.

But in spite of not being able to gather together in person during this important week of the church, I believe we have been given the gift of a shift in perspective. This shift brings us back to how the church got started in the first place and what is at the core of its identity – that with Jesus, Immanuel, life as we knew it will never be the same again. That is what Holy Week calls us to remember. And that is what death and resurrection does. And that message, life as we know it will never by the same, is true for all of us

Our scriptures begin with the crowd welcoming Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  Hosanna means “Save now.” The people were looking for Jesus to save them from the cruel Roman occupation. They were looking for Jesus to save them from a cruel and harsh world.

And so I wonder, what are we asking Jesus to save us from today? Hosanna, Jesus save us from Covid-19! Hosanna, Jesus save us from hopelessness and despair! Hosanna, Jesus save us from loneliness and isolation. Hosanna, Jesus, save us from economic ruin and a scarcity of resources! What are you asking Jesus to save you from today?

And then the lectionary scriptures take us through the Passion Story. It’s like watching a train wreck unfold. The Son of David, the Messiah the people have been waiting for, is arrested and beaten and crucified and laid in a tomb. The wreckage of the cross is so hard to understand that scripture gives us four reports on it. All of the gospels tell the story of Jesus’ passion. But the trajectory is basically the same.

The people are in Jerusalem for the Passover. The high priests were nervous. The Romans were nervous. Even the disciples were nervous. Judas leaves the Upper Room. There is a tortured prayer in Gethsemane – “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me..” but the cup was still there when the prayer was over. A mob of angry people come for Jesus, with Judas in the lead. The kiss. And by noon the next day Jesus is suffering on a cross as they shout insults at him using his own words to mock him. And finally those last words, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

And where was God in all this? If ever there was a time and then a day when Jesus needed to hear that he was God’s beloved Son, if ever there was a day he needed to hear the voice of love that had sustained him, if ever there was a day that he needed to be reminded of who he was, it was that time and that day. And as Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor says: It was that silence, I think, that killed him – not the betrayals, not the insults, not the nails, not the slow suffocation on the cross, but the silence of his Father who would not say a word.

And this is as far as we go today. To go any further might minimize the awful power of this story. We will repeat parts of this story in your do at home Maundy Thursday service and in our Good Friday service at 7 pm.

But I do leave you with this, a verse for us to cling to on this Palm and Passion Sunday as we journey into Holy Week. It is Matthew 27: 51. “The earth shook, and the rocks were split.”

“Before it became salvation, before it became forgiveness of sins, before it became a sign of God’s sacrificial love and a symbol of the church, the cross was a crisis of unfathomable proportions. And the death of Jesus was an earthquake. “The earth shook, and rocks were split.

When the earth shook and the rocks split all that we assumed, all that we knew, all in which we had become complacent about was twisted upside down. It was overturned. Never to be the same. At Golgotha, the ground shifted under our feet and our theology changed, as did our ideas about the meaning of community, kingdom and citizenship.” (Karoline Lewis)

What does it mean? It means we can sit with the unanswerable. We can wait in the wreckage.  It means we can live even in the silence. Because this just might be where God needs us to be right now. And we can do this because we have a different direction when it comes to life and even death. Because we know as Christians that when systems are on the verge of being toppled, the church has a different message. A message of hope and love and the promise of new life. When the world as we know it has changed, that’s when the church can truly and unquestionably be the light of the world.

May we know and live that message. Amen.


“The Voice of Love,” Home by Another Way, by Barbara Brown Taylor

“When the Earth Shakes.” by Karoline Lewis,