Palm Sunday Sermon
REV. JENNIFER ADAMS – April 17, 2011 – Sermon Palm Sunday
I used to think of the transition we make in this service as one which happens way too fast. Maybe you’ve felt that way too. One minute we’re singing “Hosanna!” and the future looks bright and hopeful, but then before an hour has passed we’re shouting “Crucify Him!” and the story is suddenly dark and painful. And I have always found it a little hard to keep up. One minute we’re cheering and then just a few minutes later, we’re weeping. We enter full of images of triumphal entry but before we know it we’re faced with details surrounding death on a cross. And I used to think that it happened too fast; like maybe we were making a grave liturgical mistake as we attempted to fit just a little too much into an hour or so’s worth of time.
I used to think that way but this year I’m not so sure. Throughout this Lent our many conversations about healing and the many stories and prayers we’ve shared, not to mention the very hard experiences of death and loss that we’ve experienced as a community – all of those pieces have effected how I think about this week. And so with all we’ve taken in this Lent, I wonder if having the story told the way we do it this morning – moving so quickly from one phase to the the next – does actually fit us very well.
Because according to the stories we’ve shared from our own lives, whenever we move from celebration to mourning it seems like it happens too fast. We always want to slow things down when they begin to move in the direction darkness – and usually we can’t effect the pace and so we’re left feeling like we do this morning struggling to keep up. Even if there was a gradual decline or a warning of sorts, there are marked moments when each of our stories have shifted into darker sorts of places and those moments almost always feels like they come too fast.
Think about the speakers we’ve heard this Lent: Rhoda Janzen Burton whose life changed dramatically in what seemed to her like the blink of an eye. Or David Blauw whose daughter’s accident changed her and her family’s life forever. They each talked about how hard it was for them to catch up with the new reality of their own lives because it “had all happened so quickly.” For them and for us our stories shift just like the gospel did this morning. Almost all of us have moved from Hosanna! to painful and whenever that happens there is usually just a particular moment that marks the turn and quickly, so very quickly the mood of the story is changed.
And so I let go of my liturgical worries this year – and I figure now that perhaps the pace of this service isn’t a mistake after all – and then I wonder about time and I wonder about healing and I know that even though I have a Masters degree in divinity this is beyond my
understanding and so then my wondering about all of it turns to prayer. And that prayer allows me to let God be God and know that the best I can do is be me and invite you to be yourselves and to enter into the kind of prayer that is more like presence than it is request. And while presence is hard when things are moving quickly and it’s hard going, the letting go that brings you into the moment is the beginning of what it means to heal.
Because in that prayer we can gather with the shouts that are celebration and hope and we can gather in the tears that are loss and confusion and together, because this kind of “together” is holy, we can come to know and to trust that all of this is in the hands of our God. Which doesn’t mean that I think God makes all of this happen. There are deaths and darknesses that just are and I’d be very hard pressed to say that they are of God’s doing. But I do believe that even when our stories shift to darkness, maybe especially when our stories shift dramatically to dark places, God is there planting redemptive sorts of seeds, helping new life come to be, making it possible eventually for our tears to turn to laughter, our weeping to songs of joy. And I believe that that’s what this gospel story, what this week that is Holy is all about.
Because the other thing I’ve noticed is that Easter comes just as fast as the cross does, and Rhoda and David and all of us talked about that too. Resurrection comes as every bit of a surprise as Good Friday. (And so I need to give a Spoiler alert before I go any further – if you don’t want to know how this story ends – or better how it re-begins, plug your ears for a minute or two.)
Next Sunday, the women go to the tomb expecting death and instead they find angels proclaiming new life and the story turns again and it happens quickly. They go expecting a firmly established, un-moveable boulder and instead the stone has been rolled away and they are given good news, good news to share with their people. So in the blink of a tear- filled eye, the cries of Crucify Him! become cries of Alleluia! and the emptiness of the tomb touches the emptiness of their hearts and life begins again. And it is new.
And that’s how God is God. Profoundly present as our lives shift and change. Present in the darkness. Present as the light. Present in our Hossanas! And God being God even on the cross. I don’t understand it all, and the timing through most of it certainly isn’t mine but I do believe that because God is God, together we who are we can always come again to make our song, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”