Maundy Thursday 2017

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 13, 2017 (Maundy Thursday)

If I had to title my sermons, and I’m always so thankful this is not a practice in the Episcopal Church, this one would be called, “God loves us, warts and all. No, literally.” Because when it comes to Maundy Thursday, the focus is so often on our feet. And that’s not necessarily something we’re comfortable with. Yet God does indeed love us warts, callouses, blisters, corns, hang nails, and all.

That’s what Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper reminds us of in a verywashing-feet-web tangible way. Now, it would be easy enough to just leave the act of foot washing in the realm of the theoretical or the spiritual. After all, this story is really about love, not clean feet. But tonight we are actually going to wash one another’s feet. Why? Because Jesus is pretty clear when he says, “just as I have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

I realize this isn’t a natural act. Taking off your shoes in a public place other than the beach or a pool can make us supremely uncomfortable. It breaks all our cultural norms and notions of social decorum. And there’s a vulnerability inherent in submitting to such an intimate act with someone you may hardly even know.

But we’re not alone in this discomfort. The foot washing that took place on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion also violated societal norms and pushed against the disciples’ very notion of propriety. Though for slightly different reasons. It was customary for feet to be washed when entering someone’s home. Wearing sandals and living in a hot, sweaty, sandy climate made this a practical gesture of hospitality. So it wasn’t that the disciples were shy about the act of having their feet washed. Rather, their discomfort stemmed from who was washing their feet. This was something done by a servant, not a master. And in their teacher-student relationship with Jesus, one who had been further identified as their “lord,” they should have been the ones washing Jesus’ feet, not the other way around. And so the gesture was seen as wildly unconventional and even offensive.

There’s a reason Peter so strongly resists when Jesus bends to wash his feet. He’s shocked and perhaps even embarrassed for the one he’s identified as the “anointed one of God.” It’s beneath the dignity of so lofty a figure. Peter cries out, ‘You will never wash my feet!” But Jesus encourages him saying, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” And Peter consents.

This very much reminds me of the encounter with John the Baptist when Jesus shows up at the Jordan River and asks John to baptize him. John basically says, “What are you nuts? You’ve come here to be baptized by me, but you’re the one who should be baptizing me!” But Jesus encourages him saying that it is proper in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” And John consents.

And so from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry we see him overturning conventional wisdom and flipping cultural norms. And in both cases he uses water — the most basic element on the planet, a symbol of purity and new life — to make his broader point.

Jesus often does things that push against our natural inclinations. Love tends to bring us into such places. And for us, that’s what the foot washing represents. Following Jesus is not always comfortable. And this evening we encounter that face-to-face.

In a few moments we will invite you to come forward and have your feet washed and then stay and wash the feet of the next person in line. Some of you will choose to stay safely in your pews, with your laces doubled-knotted. And I understand that. No one is compelled to participate. It personally took me years of attending Maundy Thursday services before I mustered the courage to take off my shoes and join in. I still remember walking down the cold, stone floor at my home parish in Baltimore feeling quite awkward and out of place. But finally doing so unlocked such trust and evoked a letting go of control that served me well throughout a moving Holy Week experience. And I do wish for you the same this evening and throughout the next few days. Even if, or especially if, it takes you way out of your comfort zone.

So, will you do as Jesus commanded and allow your feet to be washed? Will you embody Jesus’ call to love one another as he loved us and wash another’s feet? That’s the invitation of this night.

And while foot washing may be optional, remember that in the Christian faith, love is not optional. Jesus gives us a new commandment to love one another as he himself loved us. A commandment to love, not a suggestion to love. And there’s a difference. The very word “commandment” is so identified with the Law of Moses, the 10 Commandments. How audacious, then, for Jesus to present a new commandment.

But the foot washing, the institution of the eucharist, the entire Last Supper is all about lovingly doing this “in remembrance of me.” It is rooted in love. May this night be an entrance into the ever-unfolding drama of God’s love for you — warts and all.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck


Palm Sunday 2017

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 9, 2017 (Palm Sunday)

Well, that all turned rather abruptly. From Hosanna to Crucify in the blink of an eye. This crowd that had greeted Jesus with such enthusiasm, now calls for his very life.

And while we often skip over the parade of palms that marks Jesus’ triumphal entry into1999_10208680678005109_7187044833214358620_n Jerusalem, it’s worth pausing for just a moment to reflect upon the euphoria of that day. The sheer joy and jubilation of those welcoming Jesus. There were high hopes for this man, hailed as a savior, welcomed as a king. People had heard the stories, they had witnessed his acts, his words of wisdom were well-known.

And the palms spread along his path were symbols of admiration and adulation. There’s something we love about this image because we think, “Finally, they get it. Finally, Jesus is getting his due. Finally, they recognize Jesus for who he is.” We equate large enthusiastic crowds with validation for his message. And that pleases us.

But here’s the problem with this model: Jesus didn’t come into the world to attract admirers. He didn’t seek to build up his base by drawing large crowds. He wasn’t concerned with the optics of success.

No, Jesus didn’t seek admirers but followers. He sought people who would follow him not just when things were going well, but when things didn’t go according to plan; not just when things were joyful and euphoric but when things turned dark and tragic. And they do.

This coming week we must ask ourselves whether we will be admirers of Jesus or followers of Jesus. Holy Week brings us face-to-face with the question of whether we are content to call ourselves people of faith when it’s on our terms or whether we are disciples of Jesus willing to follow him when it’s inconvenient or difficult or painful. Are we fair-weather Christians who love to wave palms around and proclaim “Hosanna” or are we disciples of Jesus who recognize our complicity by crying, “Crucify?”

It’s easy enough to follow Jesus when things are going well. When life is smooth. When the parade is heading down the street and we’re surrounded and buoyed by the support of others. It’s harder when life takes a turn. And there’s a health crisis or a relationship fades or we’re confronted with conflict at work or home. Jesus knew full well about life taking a turn. That’s what this day is all about as we move from Hosanna to Crucify.

Yes, we can and should admire Jesus. But if we stop there, we’re missing the invitation to truly transform our lives. Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish philosopher, writes about the difference between being an admirer and a follower of Jesus: “A follower strives to be what he admires. An admirer, however, keeps himself personally detached. He fails to see that what is admired involves a claim upon him, and thus he fails to be or strive to be what he admires.”

The Christian life is not an intellectual pursuit. It is about the entirety of our souls. We can’t follow Jesus at a safe, emotionally-detached distance. We can surely admire him that way and that’s a good first step. But Jesus wants all of us, not just part of us. To follow Jesus takes heart and soul and mind and full immersion.

So, the invitation has been extended. How will you respond? That’s the question we live with every single moment of our lives. Will you keep your distance or fully engage with Jesus? Will you be willing to make sacrifices or will you play it safe? The possibility of radical transformation awaits as we prepare to walk the way of the cross. As we prepare to follow Jesus.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2017

Good Friday 2016

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on March 25, 2016 (Good Friday)

“Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches, and weapons.”

There is a lot of violence in our lives. Murder, mayhem, misdeeds. Fortunately, at least for the vast majority of us, most of it doesn’t affect us personally. Violence happens to other people. Or on television. It happens in bad neighborhoods. Or in the Middle East. Or in Belgium. You can see it on the news. You can watch murder on demand. Corpses abound on our screens and in our consciousness. There is a lot of violence in our lives.

“Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear.”

The problem, of course, is that we can too easily become desensitized to violence — both fictionalized and real — while living in the comfort and safety of our South Shore living rooms. No, we don’t live in a war-torn part of the world. And while gun violence is a daily issue mere miles from here, it is not something that consumes our everyday thoughts. Occasionally violence does break into our lives, but contrary to the images we regularly see, it’s the exception rather than the rule.

“Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’”

But this de-sensitivity to violence has a direct impact on our own spiritual lives, one that is magnified on Good Friday. Because the violence of the cross can become just another murder that takes place “out there” beyond our emotional connection. One that took place 2,000 years ago in what can feel like a galaxy far, far away.

“So the soldiers, their officers, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him.”

On this dark day in the Christian year, I encourage you to take Jesus’ death personally. To allow it to spark outrage. To acknowledge the pain at the core of your soul. To grieve for a beautiful life cut short. To internalize the grief. To rage against the injustice. To make it personal.

“When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’”

Because when you take the crucifixion of Jesus personally, it allows you to take the resurrection of Jesus personally. When we make Christ’s suffering personal, the journey to the empty tomb becomes personal. Insurrection leads to resurrection. Like two sides of a divine coin, we can’t have one without the other.

Yet for as much as we are consumers of violence in our daily lives, when violence becomes personal, we look away to avoid the pain. That’s human nature, of course. We want to get Good Friday over with so we can get on with the celebration that is to come. Many people avoid coming to church on Good Friday precisely because they don’t want to deal with the hard reality of the cross. They don’t want to deal with Jesus’ death. They want to keep the cross at a safe distance. They don’t want to take it personally.

“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.”

The truth about the Christian faith in general and this week in particular, is that we want to avert our eyes, and yet we cannot. We want to skip over the betrayal, and yet we cannot. We want to avoid the denial, and yet we cannot. We want to pass over the violence, and yet we cannot. We cannot look away because the betrayal is our betrayal, the denial our denial, the violence is our violence.

We must fix our gaze firmly upon the cross. Not because we’re gluttons for punishment but because it is only through the cross that new life beckons.

“When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’”

We gather at the foot of the cross, not to curl up into the fetal position but to gather strength for the journey ahead. Jesus died to destroy the power of death — that’s the power of the resurrection, yes. But, still, we cannot ignore the violence that takes place on this day we proclaim “good.”

“Then Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.”

I bid you to take this day so personally that it changes you; that it transforms how you live your life. That through it, you are able to live a life free from the paralyzing fear of death. That you’re able to look not past or beyond but through the violence to see what the cross truly is: the ultimate act of divine love.

“There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.”

We gaze at the hard wood of the cross not in isolation or alone but within the context of the resurrection and with one another. As painful as it may be, this is a day of love, not violence. Because unlike the original disciples, we know the end of the story. We don’t have to pretend as if the agony of the cross is the end; as if Jesus’ words “It is finished” are the final chapter. We know that it is NOT finished. The question is what we do about it and where we go from here.

“Then he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit.”

© The Rev. Tim Schenck

Maundy Thursday 2015

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 5, 2012 (Maundy Thursday)

Tonight we begin a journey. Over the next three days, the Three Great Days, as they are often called, we’ll move from Lent to Easter, from darkness to light, from death to resurrection. We’ll walk with Jesus and his disciples through the last days of his life. We’ll travel to the Upper Room for the Last Supper and foot washing; we’ll enter the Garden of Gethsemane to watch and pray; we’ll meet the one who will betray Jesus; we’ll witness the indignity of Jesus’ trial; we’ll come face-to-face with the agony of the crucifixion as we move to the Foot of the Cross; we’ll gather with the women at the empty tomb to encounter the risen Christ.

And as we begin this journey, it’s important to recognize that we don’t just gather to remember long ago events. This isn’t a dramatic but ultimately benign bedtime story. We’re not passive onlookers standing by to watch the drama unfold before our eyes.

Nor are these three days a re-enactment of past events. We’re not play-acting or role-playing or merely pretending that we’re part of the action. The altar is not a stage; the congregation is not the audience. This isn’t stage left or stage right. We don’t dim the lights to call us back from intermission after the Peace.

Rather it is a journey into the very heart of the salvation story. A story that forms our identity as Christians. A story that is our story. So we’re not just hearing about dramatic events that took place a couple thousand years ago or observing them from a safe distance. As believers, we are deeply embedded in the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are part of the story. Which is precisely why we are all here this evening and it’s why we will gather over the next several evenings.

It’s helpful to think about the services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter as one liturgy in three movements. To miss any of them is like missing one act of a three-act play. But when you go “all in” and commit to the fullness of the story, you come out the other side both spiritually renewed and spiritually transformed. That, at least, I can guarantee.

Meister_des_Hausbuches_003You may know that the word “maundy,” from which derives the name “Maundy Thursday,” comes from the Latin mandatum, meaning commandment. It’s where we get the English word “mandate.” And we call this day Maundy Thursday because Jesus gives us a new commandment: That we love one another as Jesus loves us. Or as he put it after washing the disciples feet, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

That’s quite a charge and it’s significant that Jesus calls this a “commandment.” This was a word dripping with meaning for the disciples — the Ten Commandments, the heart of the Law of Moses. So the fact that Jesus points to the call to love one another as an imperative command highlights its importance. Maundy Thursday could just as easily be called “New Commandment Thursday.” Because, for Jesus, love is not optional. This isn’t Suggestion Thursday; it’s New Commandment Thursday and that commandment is abundantly clear: “love one another as I have loved you.”

Love is the central theme that we will carry along on our journey over the next three days. And I encourage you to hold on to this commandment in your heart. Refer to it often as you reflect on the events that unfold. Think about how Jesus loves us unconditionally despite what he endures; view the crucifixion itself as the ultimate act of love that it is. Look at the ways in which the participants in this story live up to the command to love, and the ways in which they fall short. And examine your own life under the same light.

The thing about the foot washing that is so powerful is that Jesus doesn’t just talk abstractly about love. He doesn’t write a position paper on the concept or merely pay it lip service. When Jesus stands up in the middle of the meal, strips off his outer robe, wraps a towel around his waist, takes that pitcher of water in his hand, and bends over to wash the feet of his disciples, his actions become the ultimate example of someone practicing what he preaches. He doesn’t just talk about loving one another, he embodies it — through the foot washing tonight and, soon enough, on the cross.

But there is resistance to this outpouring of love. Peter reacts strongly against what Jesus is doing for several reasons. First, such a ritual washing as a sign of hospitality would have taken place before the meal. Jesus standing up in the middle of the meal to wash the disciples’ feet was out of order. So right from the start there was something not quite right about this; something that stood out as not being “by the book.”

Of greater significance and what made this even more uncomfortable and distasteful for the disciples, was the fact that masters or teachers never washed the feet of those below them in the social order. They were the ones who had their feet washed by servants or students — not the other way around. So there was a complete role reversal going on that bucked all social norms and conventions. By radically overturning the way things were always done, Jesus’ actions highlight that this was indeed a very new and slightly uncomfortable commandment.

In a few moments we, too, will wash one another’s feet in a tangible sign of the mandatum to love one another. And whether you choose to participate or simply observe, the message is the same: we serve one another as Christ himself serves us; we love one another as Christ himself loves us. The foot washing is Jesus’ gift to his disciples, just as the giving of his life will be a gift to the entire world.

So while the foot washing at this service is optional, the commandment to love one another is not. “Love one another as I have loved you.” May this new commandment, remain with you this night and throughout our journey to the cross and beyond.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck

Good Friday 2013

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on March 29, 2013 (Good Friday) 

In Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey, we hear the story of Odysseus’ long journey home after the Trojan War. Along the way he encounters myriad obstacles and much intrigue, due in large part to the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus. Toward the end of his journey he must skirt a section of coastline notorious for devastating shipwrecks. The reason it’s so perilous, we learn, is on account of a magnificent song sung by the sirens of the sea. The tune is so tantalizing that unsuspecting sailors steer dangerously close to the rocky shore until their ships are inevitably dashed against the rocks, sending entire crews to their watery graves.

Fortunately for our hero, one of the gods warns Odysseus and offers a solution. Before setting sail, Odysseus has his sailors plug their ears with wax so they won’t be able to hear the sirens’ sultry song. Then he asks his crew to lash him securely to the mast so that, while he is able to listen to the enchanting melody — which he desperately want to hear — he won’t be able to escape and bid his crew to steer closer.  This plan works and Odysseus is able to continue his journey home.

On this Good Friday, we reflect upon the pain of Jesus’ being lashed to the mast. The mast of Christ is, of course, the cross and he’s lashed with nails rather than rope. But lashed he is to this implement of torture and death. Strung up like a common criminal. Helpless as he endures the taunts and mockery of the very humanity he came into the world to redeem.

And it’s important to stop for a moment. To pause and gaze upon our Savior lifted high upon the cross. To metaphorically walk around it and take in the scene. As much as we want to avert our eyes, as much as we want to edit out this chapter in the Christian story, as much as we want to change the ending, this is one time when we cannot.

Because on this day we are reminded that the cross is real. It’s not merely symbolic or something we wear around our necks as a fashion accessory. We run our hands across the rough hewn wood; we touch the cold steel nails; we hear the agonizing cry of Jesus lifted high upon the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”; we feel the vibrations of the nails being driven deep into flesh and bone; we smell the bitter vinegar as it’s lifted to his lips; we see the blood on our own hands.

There is nothing more real than the death of our Lord. Speaking of the crucifixion in tangible terms isn’t some rhetorical trick; it’s not meant to scare young children; or guilt us into becoming better Christians. But crucifixion must be real and vivid if resurrection is to be real and vivid. The crucifixion matters because resurrection matters. Amid the changes and chances of this mortal life, it offers meaning; amid the suffering and despair, it offers hope; amid the enslavement to sin, it offers freedom.

Yes, the hard wood of the cross is painful to behold. And it’s painful because it holds up a mirror. It reflects our lives back to us: the brokenness, the despair, the helplessness, the complicity, the pain, the struggle. Despite our hardened exterior shells, we are reminded of the depth of our vulnerability; of how often we travel this road of humanity carrying heavy burdens. Burdens that weigh us down and frighten us and sometimes bring us to our knees unable or unwilling to go on. Burdens that Jesus invites us to place at the foot of the cross. Today. Right now. In this very moment.

We can do this because as Christians we are lashed not to the cross but to Jesus himself. Our lives are bound up in his life. Jesus’ death on the cross frees us from that same death; his resurrection insures this. We belong to Jesus by virtue of our baptism; we are lashed to Jesus and marked as Christ’s own forever. And it is this sweet union to our Lord that brings us to a place of hope and salvation. Even on Good Friday.

Jesus willingly takes up his cross even as his very humanity screams against the horror of it all. His heavenly home awaits even as he suffers for the sins of all humanity. As Odysseus hears the sweet song of the sirens while lashed to his mast, perhaps Jesus hears the sweet song of the angels while hanging on the cross. Both are going home. Odysseus to his wife and son; Jesus to his Father in heaven. But the journey itself is a trial of faith.

As Odysseus willingly lashes himself to the mast, we can willingly lash ourselves to Jesus. This doesn’t mean our journey home will be all light and sweet. But we will get there. We will one day be received into God’s loving and merciful arms. Jesus’ victory will be our victory. And the good news on this Good Friday is that just as we are lashed to Jesus in death so are we lashed to Jesus in resurrection glory.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2013

Palm Sunday 2002

Palm Sunday
March 24, 2002
Old St. Paul’s, Baltimore
The Rev. Timothy E. Schenck

Listening to the story of Christ’s passion always frustrates me. The ending never changes. And there are various points where I want to jump into the story and shake some sense into the characters so that the outcome will be more to my liking. Every year I wait for a different conclusion – Jesus escapes or his divinity is recognized before the crucifixion or he invokes God to take him down from the cross. But the ending is always the same: Jesus is left hanging on the cross to die. And we’re left helplessly and hopelessly watching from the sidelines.

The following are some places in the passion narrative that I find especially frustrating. I’ll bet I’m not alone. First, we enter the Garden of Gethsemane. “Stay awake! What’s wrong with you? I don’t really care how tired you are, don’t you have any idea what’s about to happen here? Rest some other time.” Peter, James, and John are human, they’re weak, they also don’t know what’s about to take place. We do. 

The arrest of Jesus. The disciples start to fight with the chief priests and the crowd. Jesus stops them and tells them to put their swords away. “Jesus, please call on those twelve legions of angels you say God would provide if only you asked. You could subdue this mob and get away.” Like the disciples, our first instinct is anger. We want to put up a fight because we know Jesus is falsely accused. But Jesus knows that the unveiling of God’s plan doesn’t always match our own wants and desires.

The encounter with the high priest. Jesus stands silent before his accusers. He is mocked, spit upon, and beaten. “OK, Jesus. You didn’t run away when you had the chance, but speak! Tell them who you really are. Show them who you really are. Do a sign, perform a miracle. Maybe then they’ll realize they’ve made a terrible mistake and let you go.” We know who Jesus is, his accusers do not. Jesus knows what must be done to fulfill the Scriptures and redeem humanity. No one else can know what the Son of God knows.

Pilate’s offer to release Jesus or Barabbas. The crowd wants blood. More specifically, they want Jesus’ blood. “Release Jesus! He’s innocent. Come to your senses and let him go. You have the power to set God’s son free.” But the choice is made and Barabbas walks away. Another opportunity to change the ending of the story is lost. 

Jesus on the cross. The crowd mockingly shouts, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Jesus cries out to God but remains nailed to the wood. “Jesus, come down, please. Wouldn’t this be a great chance to show everyone who you really are. Come down off that cross and live.” Why doesn’t Jesus save himself? Is it possible that he couldn’t? Doubt begins to creep in.

My notion of a proper ending never does transpires. Jesus Christ, my Lord, our Lord, is mocked derided and crucified. We know how the story goes. It barrels ahead in all its gruesome familiarity. And as frustrating as it is, we can’t do anything to change it. The spirit will be willing but the flesh will be weak, Peter will deny Christ three times, Barabbas will be released, Pilate will wash his hands, and Jesus will be crucified.

The script can’t be sent back for a rewrite. And no one knows this better than Jesus himself. Regarding the unfolding drama he prays, “Yet not what I want but what you want.” This is exactly how we must approach the Passion narrative. Christ offers himself to God for us and we must accept this offer – we may not understand exactly why Christ has to die in order for humanity to be redeemed but we must allow God’s purposes to be fulfilled whether or not we fully comprehend or agree with what takes place. In the context of the resurrection, Christ’s death takes on so much more meaning. This day we don’t hear the joyful part of the story. We’ll need to wait a week. And so often in our own lives we make judgments about why certain things happen to us without fully knowing the breadth of the plan God has laid out for us. So this is a day of offering to God our own desires and wants and sending them up the cross with Jesus. As we listen to the Passion and prepare to walk the way of the cross this week, there can be no better starting point than to pray with Jesus, “Yet not what I want but what you want.”

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2002

Palm Sunday 2001

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