A Sermon from the Church of
Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 2, 2023 (Palm Sunday)
This is a day of liturgical whiplash. We rapidly move from palms and shouts of “Hosanna” to the cross and cries of “crucify.” In an instant, we go from triumph to tragedy, from palms to Passion. And it’s a bit jarring, frankly. The swirl of emotions, the wild mood swings, the changing tone of the readings and music. In a single service we get the whole breadth of human emotion: joy, pain, elation, hope, discouragement, compassion, grief. And everything in between.
But this makes sense, when you think about it. Because 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. And in order to engage this way, we can’t leave our emotions out of the equation. That’s just not how the life of faith works.
Which is why it’s so painful to join in those cries of “crucify!” We don’t want to. It sticks in our throat. Like Pontius Pilate, we don’t want to take responsibility for Jesus’ death. We want to blame someone else, anyone else, for the crucifixion. The crowds, the chief priests, the Roman authorities. The Church itself has a long and shameful history of blaming the Jews for Jesus’ death — which is a sordid and sinful misinterpretation of Scripture. And anyway, we weren’t even there. This all happened 2,000 years ago, after all. How could we be to blame?
And yet we are indeed complicit. Every time we stay silent in the face of injustice, we crucify Jesus. Every time we fail to lift up the downtrodden, we crucify Jesus. Every time we victimize the marginalized and innocent, whether intentionally or not, we crucify Jesus. And that is a bitter pill to swallow on a day that started with such enthusiastic waving of palms.
The good news is that this doesn’t make us horrible people. It’s just a reminder of our sinful, flawed humanity. And it points us back towards Jesus and our desperate need for a Savior. That’s where the hope of this day comes bursting through, and it sets us up for what is to come.
Because Palm Sunday stands as an entryway, a portal into the holiest week of the Christian year. Holy Week invites us to step into the very heart of the Christian story, the heart of our story. And when we join Jesus and one another on this journey, that’s when true transformation happens. That’s when our relationship with Jesus Christ grows in ways that are beyond what we could ever ask for or imagine.
And so I invite you to embrace this journey. To walk with this community from the Upper Room at the Last Supper, to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the cross on Calvary, to the empty tomb. Whether this is your first Holy Week or your 80th, you will emerge with new insights and a changed heart. And over the next seven days, I encourage you to immerse yourself in the story, the liturgy, the music, the drama of the Christian faith. This is what it’s all about. This is why this church exists. And I look forward to walking this path with each and every one of you in the days ahead.