Palm/Passion Sunday Year B
April 5, 2009
Let us pray: O God, you lead us through life not promising that it will always be nice or easy, but you do covenant to be with us. May these words be ones which tell again of your promise. May they encourage and comfort, each in the proportions necessary for us in the days that lay ahead. Amen.
It may seem strange that there was no gospel passage among the readings that we just heard from Gwyneth. It's not because there was none assigned for this day which is called both Palm and Passion Sunday. In fact, as the lectionary goes, the gospel passage assigned to the passion portion of this week's readings is the longest passage of any assigned to any Sunday in the year. Even when we are in the middle year year B the one that focuses on Mark the most succinct of the four gospel records, there are still two whole chapters dedicated to this Sunday. A very long reading indeed.
Now I didn't leave out the reading of the gospel passage simply in the interest of time. There have been lots of past Palm and Passion Sundays when the whole story was read with an accordingly shorter reflection, but this week there was an aspect of the story which spoke to me, and which drew me to take a different approach this year. But first let me give you a bit of background.
Maybe the concept of Palm AND Passion Sunday is new to you. Perhaps you remember Palm Sunday from your younger years, but the addition of Passion to the title for the Sunday in the church year is new. What is that about? The way I've heard it explained is that if you only attended worship on Sunday, you would attend one week and celebrate Palm Sunday the story of a triumphant entry by Jesus into Jerusalem an entrance where he is greeted by enthusiastic crowds, extolling him as the new political leader that would help them overthrow the Roman overlords, despite the fact that he iconoclastically is not riding a great hulking military steed but a small colt or donkey. A week passes and Easter Sunday is the next one in the weekly schedule. A person attends worship and once again it is a big celebration Jesus the same person that was celebrated on Palm Sunday in a triumphant entry into Jerusalem, has risen. Has risen? What's that about? What is missing of course is how you get from triumphant entry into Jerusalem, to arrest, kangaroo trial and ultimately, execution. Given that the entry to Jerusalem was probably seen as the entry of a new political leader the arrest, trial and execution may not seem to be such a big leap but it sure encompasses a range of emotions from the height of euphoria and expectation to the depth of despair, grief, shock and depression. But what is missing is all the personal interactions that occur in the telling of the story the betrayals, the denials, the fickle crowd which turned against the iconoclastic leader who thought in upside down ways, and brought people to reflect on their relationship with God in ways that were closer, more intimate, more revealing than anyone else had ever done before.
But the story is not about them. It's about us. The Easter experience is deeper and more meaningful when there is a Good Friday in between, but if we miss the ironically named Good Friday, then we miss something deeply important, hard as it may be. Passion Sunday attempts to lead us along that path to start us on a journey towards Good Friday.
So while we didn't read the gospel story in worship this morning, it's a good thing to do chapters 14 and 15 of the gospel of Mark. It will take you maybe ten minutes to read them, and if you have been following a Lenten discipline, perhaps you could make reading those two chapters a part of it this week, or if you haven't been following a Lenten discipline this year, this may be a way to at least have a Holy Week discipline, to help your preparation for this critical week in the Christian story.
Sometime in the past month, I read or heard a sort of lament for the city of Jerusalem, as the crucible for much of the woe and turmoil that exists in the struggle for peace in the Middle East. Jerusalem, a focal point for the three sibling faiths of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, and the source of struggle among all three of them in an attempt to claim the city as the exclusive property of one faith over the other.
It's a modern day incarnation of a struggle of another kind the struggle that surrounded Jesus, his followers and citizens of Jerusalem Roman, Jewish, Samaritan, and probably some Greek and other ethnic and religious groups as well Sadducees, Pharisees, traders, merchants, passers-by, and observers.
It was a heart breaking struggle for so many people as told in the story of Jesus' passion a betrayal, a denial, a group of friends who fell asleep at a crucial time, a crowd that turned against a leader with a new vision because his time line and his methodology did not match their idea of what it should be.
Modern day Jerusalem is just as heart breaking as a symbol of the ways that human beings find to hate each other, and hold generation upon generation of grudge against each other. Its not just Jerusalem of course, it's not just the struggle between Palestine and Israel, it's the struggle among people of all kinds, all conflicts, all misunderstandings, all cultural clashes. It's the struggle of indigenous people all around the world. It's the struggle of differing understandings of property and ownership, spirituality and value systems. It's the political struggle and the economic struggle, the ethnic struggle and the world-view struggle.
There was a time when Jesus stood and looked over Jerusalem from a lofty vantage point and offered this lament for Jerusalem, seemingly summing up our own angst and sorrow and heart break, even as he predicted his own:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killer of prophets, abuser of the messengers of God! How often I've longed to gather your children, gather your children like a hen, Her brood safe under her wings but you refused and turned away!And now it's too late: You won't see me again until the day you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of God.'" Luke 13:34
But notice how the lament ends with a sign of hope, a comforting image of a mother hen with her brood of chicks under her wings.
The struggle is important critical even. The heartbreak cannot be avoided, the sorrow cannot be pushed aside, the introspection is necessary, the story needs to be heard.
And so, this Sunday is one which doesn't really have an end. It leaves us poised to continue the journey to Jerusalem and all the figurative Jerusalems which are part of the struggle to meet them all on Friday and make ready for the promise which seems too clouded, too obscured right now... but wait....Amen.