The following is Palm Sunday’s sermon, with an attachment (PDF) for the rest of Holy Week. Please feel free to download and share with your friends and loved ones. Thank you.
Greetings and Peace! Holy Week is a baptism by fire, yielding at Easter to Baptism by water, and by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. I live in the dry, barren, high desert of northern New Mexico. Often best known through the paintings of the late Georgia O’Keeffe, this land often sees less than a dozen inches of rain per year. Water, then, is of the highest value as it is the lifeblood of where I live. My place is on the banks of one of only a handful of rivers in the north. The Rio Chama joins the Rio Grande, just a few miles from my home. Without the rivers life there would be impossible.
To further enhance the power of water, the invading Spanish conquerors introduced irrigation through a watercourse called an acequia more than 500 years ago. These large irrigation ditches draw the water from the river, then move it through a series of hand dug ditches, each extending off the main channel onto each farm. The land is flooded by water moving over it, thereby returning the water to the river miles downstream. To maintain this fragile system, everyone along the acequia must maintain the earthen walls of their own smaller ditch and clean it from weeds and roots, which tend to take up life in the moist earth each spring. To maintain the acequia is to maintain life itself, for oneself and one’s community.
One of the most efficient ways to clean the acequia of weeds and harden the ditch walls is to burn it. Each year, throughout early Lent each of us along the acequia cuts, rakes, and burns our section of the main ditch and then the smaller ditches down into our fields. It is truly a trial by fire spending 6 to 10 hours cleaning and burning.
At the end of March the whole community gathers to remove the overgrowth around the main acequia and to clean those sections where the owners are too infirm to clean it or are away from the land. It is a sacred responsibility and the means of bonding with the land and the larger pueblo—The community.
Holy Week is much like burning those ditches. We clear the ditches of our faith—choked with the weeds of despair and doubt, the collapsed walls of confusion and fear, and the clods of hopelessness—to become the conduits of faith we were called to be; where hope is restored and faith is renewed pondering again, the mystical story of our faith and history.
The “Journey Home” is our theme for Holy Week. It is our homecoming week, our ditch- clearing week. There is no day in church year more fraught with meanings than Palm Sunday. It is a time which strikingly sets the paradox of faith and the ambiguity of revelation. But this day is not our destination. It is a crucial way station where we are invited to pause, collecting our thoughts and releasing of self-recrimination and self-flagellation over our success or failure in Lent. Now, that sojourn done, we may now get on with turning our faces toward Jerusalem.
Jesus enters like a conqueror—head held high, acknowledging the accolades of the crowd —in this parody of power knows he is to die; defeated, abandoned, and rejected. He is proclaimed Lord and King today, only to be made King of Fools, clothed in rags mocking royalty, crowned with thorns as he is led away to crucifixion by the end of this week.
Our liturgy sets forth these contrasts and confrontations. When he dies, he does so, not at the hands of bad or evil people, but at the hands of the well-meaning, sincerely-intended, passionately concerned, piously-motivated, politically astute and socially-aware people of God. He is executed on the two of the most fundamental pillars of western civilization—Roman law and Jewish piety, which I call “the cross point”. Though absolutely innocent, he is condemned by the highest authorities of his day: The Church and the State. Nonetheless, his cross is raised, situated between two thieves: One good and one bad, reflecting the reality of the heavens and hells in which we live.
Palm Sunday: This is the day of passions and possibilities.
- There is the passion of the multitude: theirs is a plea for justice and equity, but more importantly, release: “Save us now!” They cry. “Save us from hopelessness … Save us for hope … Save us now!” They are passionate in their expectations and hopeful in their passion.
- There is also the passion of the servant himself, Jesus. The servant is hailed, but before the week is out he will be assaulted; honored, but to be ridiculed. He, alone, knows a holy and terrifying secret: Faith is not about listening to the mob, but about listening to God. He rides on majesty knowing that goodness can be defeated in this life; righteousness and kindness can be abused, and even trampled, and hope can be lost. He knows that loneliness and sorrow can annihilate life and that even the ‘good’ can and do die young. He knows all of this and more.
- His passion and his purpose is obedience; obedience to God and to the deepest truth in his soul. By his self-offering, he unmasks our self-deception; reveals our callousness; shatters our romantic optimism, and exposes our faithlessness. He passionately holds on to a quiet, but severe hope—as that which cannot be seen—but only kindled in the eternity of God’s power to raise up something New … Out of the ashes of death.We celebrate—albeit awkwardly—all of these aspects, somewhat secure in the knowledge that if Jesus had not really been who he is ultimately revealed to be, then today’s drama of palms and death would be nothing more than a peculiarly tasteless spoof, from which perhaps a few throw away lines might have emerged. But on this strange day of triumph and tragedy we are also beckoned to “Come home”. Much of Jesus’ teaching focused on return … Return to God: “Come home” he cries out, reminding us over and over again: “God has fallen in love with you and wants you to come home.”
We must remember: That while thousands welcomed him home, for the vast majority of humanity the world went on with “business as usual”. Of those who were aware of the event, a few laughed at the spectacle, others scorned, and some even became threatened. But on the whole, the outcome appeared to be nothing. This is how God always works.
The cross—an instrument of torture, of public, shameful humiliation—is the cost Jesus pays for living in a “mixed” world of the human and divine. He is simultaneously shattered, broken, and yet complete within himself. Jesus demonstrates that reality is not meaningless and absurd because it isn’t fair, logical, or consistent as much as we would wish it were. Reality is filled with terrible contradictions and injustices.
Jesus is never really king in any publicly-recognizable sense. He can only be accepted and incorporated into our lives as Lord and Savior, King of Glory, by those who know themselves to be his subjects. What we celebrate today is not Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem so long ago, but his triumphal entry into our hearts. Dear friends, welcome home: May we have a blessed Holy Week. +