Palm Sunday, Year C
April 8, 2001
Old St. Paul’s, Baltimore
The Rev. Timothy E. Schenck
Wait a minute. How exactly did we get from “hosanna” to “crucify?” How did we go from praise and jubilation, palms and the singing of sweet hosannas to condemnation and accusation, a cross and the violent call for death? Things have changed around here this morning. And they’ve changed quite dramatically and suddenly. From hosanna to crucify, from palms to cross.
This morning we enter into an important part of our collective story. We wave our palms in jubilation to hail our king, our savior. We cheer Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, but it is in Jerusalem that Jesus will be condemned to death and hang on a cross to die. So, we let the bittersweet hosannas ring. The dark wooden cross looms large behind the green leafy palms.
Just as we processed through the church this morning, we too, as a parish community, are part of a procession from exaltation to denunciation, from “hosanna” to “crucify”. The final destination, of course, is resurrection. But today we merely begin this journey. A journey that draws us closer to God, a journey that exposes our human weaknesses, a journey that demonstrates above all the power of God’s love for us. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, to the cross, to the tomb, to glory. And as a community of gathered Christians standing on the precipice of Holy Week, we are much more than mere observers of this journey. Our charge, our necessary response is to walk this road with Christ and one another. We cannot be passive observers, we must be active participants. We cannot afford to let this journey simply unfold before our eyes. Unlike watching a movie, we cannot allow ourselves to sit quietly and passively in a dark and isolated theater (or church for that matter). We must actively participate in this journey with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind.
A good movie might tug on our emotions and draw us ever more deeply into the story, but only from a distance. We don’t really know the characters (they’re not real after all), and once the credits dance across the screen and the final curtain is drawn, our lives move on. We leave the theater, walk down the street, and get into our cars. We may think about the film on the drive home, or even discuss it with a friend or a spouse, but eventually it recedes into a seldom-used section of our brain and life goes on.
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a movie – despite the numerous attempts that Hollywood has made. It may be dramatic, but it’s not merely a drama. It may be good theater, but it’s not merely theatrical. We can’t just sit back and watch the death of Jesus from a safe distance. It is an event that grabs hold of each one of us and pulls us in. It’s not just a good story, it is our very own story. The pain is our pain, the humiliation is our humiliation, the agony is our agony. Over the next seven days we will retell and relive the heart of the Christian story: the death and resurrection of Christ our Redeemer. We are offered an invitation to walk this journey with Christ and one another, not as passive observers but as full participants. Jesus tells us to “pick up your cross and follow me.” That means that we must enter into the story, our own story, and walk with Jesus on this journey. There will be highs and lows, opportunities and temptations, tears of joy and tears of sorrow. Through this upcoming week we will learn even more about ourselves and the God that is revealed to us through Jesus Christ. It’s not an easy journey, but we don’t travel it alone. We walk with Christ and one another.
And we begin this walk, this journey today. When we let sweet hosannas ring we are not simply remembering Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we are indeed part of the crowd. When we cry “crucify him” we are not simply playing a role in a liturgical drama, we are indeed part of the crowd. We’re not just remembering and reminiscing about an event that took place 2,000 years ago, we are actively engaging in an ongoing, living, breathing journey with the living God. The Christian Gospel is not about the past but about the present, the here and now of our relationship with God.
On this day we hear two refrains: “hosanna” and “crucify.” So, how does the cry turn so quickly from “hosanna” to “crucify?” It’s human weakness and fear that cause us to move from the first exclamation to the second. We are both drawn to the truth and repelled by it. The mirror of truth reveals our sinfulness and we turn away from it. But what we fail to see is that Christ Jesus came into the world not to condemn us but to love us. And that frightens us because it means that in response we must love God and one another.
But “crucify” isn’t the final refrain, it’s not the end of our story. Thanks be to God. We must pass through death to get to resurrection but Christ’s death is not the last word. We must wait and watch and journey with Jesus this week before we can cry out with that final refrain – the refrain that only comes with the triumph of the resurrection. I’ll give you a hint: it begins with an “A” and it’s a shout of praise and joy. It’s also something that we symbolically give up saying throughout the forty days of Lent. But before we can proclaim the joy of the resurrection with authenticity and the assurance of our own salvation, we must first cry out “crucify.” Resurrection can only come when it’s preceded by death. And before we can join our voices with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven to proclaim the resurrection, we must first join our voices with those calling out for Christ’s death.
So, in the midst of the activities and worries and responsibilities of this life, the Church bids you to focus on the cross this week. Through prayer and worship at home and in this place, we can all stand before the cross and acknowledge the very source of life and hope. For in the cross is our hope; in the cross is our salvation; in the cross is our life.
© The Rev Tim Schenck 2001