Palm Sunday 2021: This is not about once upon a time…

  • Post author:
  • Post category:Sermons

A video format follows the written text of this sermon…

There is an argument that bubbles
just under the surface of Palm Sunday
and Holy Week – at least among some clergy
and planners of liturgy
who think about things
rather than just doing them.

It is not a very important argument
considering our current moment
snarling with anger
and anguished with grief
over mass shootings,
COVID deaths and job losses,
and the choking, shivering, and sweating
of the planet.

It is a little thing really
but I get agitated about it every year.
I want to observe “Palm” Sunday
on this day each year
instead of “Passion” Sunday.
I want to reserve Good Friday
for the reading of the Passion –
and broken up into bites during Holy Week.
But that is not the way we do it anymore
and believe it or not,
there are some aspects of tradition
and ecclesiastical protocol
I avoid betraying.

The reason we don’t do “Palm” Sunday
instead of “Passion” Sunday
is you guys.
Fretful Church fathers and mothers
bewail the fact
that few people attend Holy Week services
these days – and for a long time now.
Not even Good Friday,
though there are some interesting folks
who wouldn’t miss
Ash Wednesday or Good Friday
even though they don’t attend the rest of the year.
But anyway, the anxiety
among those with strange collars
and who dress in drag each Sunday
is that you will hear the triumphalism
of Jesus’ Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem
but by-pass the torture and execution
on your way to Easter.
If that happened it would, they say,
be cheap grace.

You, and I mean you who are not ordained,
have to experience Jesus suffering on the cross
in order to be able to celebrate the resurrection.
It is an absolute necessity they say.

Never mind that it is a story we tell
and not an event we relive on cue.
It is the church continuing to act as if
it sets the cultural table
and as if it sets the stage for what the rest of us
can see and understand about life as we live it.

That is what bugs me most, I guess.
The church, still acting as if this is Christendom.

All of which you probably could care less about
and wonder why I am yammering
about something of so little consequence
when this is Palm Sunday
and we are still separated by a virus
and the world all around is flopping like a fish
desperate to return to the water.

Okay, I am going to tell you
but don’t blame me if you get upset.
This story,
this so-called “Passion” story
falls on dead ears.

Our place in this story
is not in the crowd laying down palms.
We are not in the crowd jeering him
and asking for Barabbas to be freed.
We are not members of the Sanhedrin
or scuttling clergy
plotting against him.
We are not among the disciples
scared and brave and angry and scared again.
We are not among the brave women
who hang tough with him.
We are not the soldiers who abuse him.

We are not the haughty Herod
or malevolent Pilate who execute him.
Clearly we are not him either.

So who are we in this story?
We are a long, long way away.

We only appear between the lines.
We are the Romans back in Rome or
somewhere in Italy
who employ people like Pontus Pilate
and who deploy the legions.
They didn’t have drones back then,
but if they did,
Jesus and the disciples may have all been wiped out
because drones are much cheaper
and often more effective
against revolutionary riff-raff.
And that is what really matters to empire.

It is almost impossible for us
to hear this story
and feel its true resonance
because we do not listen to it
from our perspective.
We try to shoehorn ourselves into it
through somebody else’s part.

We don’t get the fact
that it was and is our agents –
people who work for us
to keep us safe and sound and secure
within our borders –
who kill people like Jesus.

Instead, we make our liturgical dramas
and our Passion Plays and movies
and feel just awful
when we see the reruns each year.
But we feel awful in the wrong place.

We feel awful for Jesus
as if he is still suffering.
Instead we should feel awful for ourselves
because we are still doing it.
And by “we”
I mean those of us in the controlling classes
all around the world –
in the U.S.
and across Europe
and in China and Myanmar and Thailand.

You see, this story
is about what happens
when the agents of God meet us.

They die.
When they get too close
or get heard too widely
or start to resonate beneath the surface
they die.

As long as we keep the focus on Jesus
instead of us,
or on what happened back then
instead of what we are doing today,
then the story remains just a fascinating story.

I get why the church does it this way.
It is no fun to do what I am doing right now –
so that it shatters our resistance.
But honestly, I can’t be part of the pretend any more.
I was never very good at it anyway.

The Passion is not about Jesus it is about us.