PASSION SUNDAY 2016
A Sermon by Pastor Chico Martin
JESUS ON THE WAY OF SORROWS
Lections: Luke 19:28-40; Psalm 118:14-29
Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56
Today we begin the most decisive week of our salvation, the Great and Holy Week that enlarges our understanding of reality and of the things “wrought at this time by our Lord.”[i] Today we begin to experience the intensification of good and evil in the world. Today we express our willingness to take up the cross and follow Jesus on the Way of Sorrows, with great humility and patience, in the hope of his resurrection.
In the medieval church, “Passion Sunday” was the 5th Sunday of Lent and marked the beginning of a two-week Passiontide; this is why crosses are sometimes veiled – in purple -for the 5th and 6th Sundays of Lent. Other churches veil the cross – in unbleached linen – for all of Lent.
The dramatic celebration that begins with the Triumphal Entry of the 6th Sunday of Lent, which we may still call “Palm Sunday,” is rapidly followed by controversy and betrayal, the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, the Crucifixion and Burial on Good Friday, and a Vigil on Holy Saturday, the Day of Rest. The triumphalism of the entry gives way to the agony of the Passion and the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea.
Jesus, who is called Messias, “Anointed One,” the long awaited King of Israel, makes his entry into Jerusalem just as prophesied 500 years earlier, by Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!” urges the prophet,“Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey (NASB, Zach 9:9).
The people of Jerusalem, especially the children, turn out in large numbers for Jesus, lining the path of his entrance and processing with him, holding palm branches and pussy willows. Images of palms were part of the sacred carvings in Solomon’s Temple; they appear again in John the Revelator’s vision: After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying,“Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying,“Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
The palms are a symbol of honor, and the honor Jesus is greeted with in Jerusalem comes with the city’s hopeful yearning for liberation from the oppression of Caesar: the cry of Hosanna means “Save us; save us now!” In less than a week, however, celebration will turn to disappointment, and the city against its Savior; we hold palms in our hands during the reading of the Passion to remind us that we, like Jerusalem, have rejected the Christ.
Palm Sunday is the only Sunday during the year when we hear the Passion narrative read in its entirety. This distinctive feature of today’s service prepares us to understand what lies ahead. Jesus suffers much this week, an example to us, before midnight Saturday, when “The angels in heaven, O Christ our Savior, sing of Thy resurrection,” and the ancient church opens its doors with this prayer: “Make us on earth also worthy to hymn Thee with a pure heart.”
In a week’s time, we will be filled with joy, celebrating Christ’s Resurrection on Holy Pascha, that is, Passover Sunday, which we call Easter. We will have moved through Holy Week, which “begins with a defeat that looks for all the world like a victory, and moves on to a victory that appears to everyone to be a defeat.”[ii] For now, much is still expected of us, for we cannot be born again and pass over from death to life before first undergoing death.
[i] John Chrysostom, quoted in Pfatteicher, Journey into the Heart of God.
[ii] The Rev. Charles Peek, Diocese of Nebraska, ca. 1979. Quoted by The Rev. William S. J. Moorhead: http://havestole.blogspot.com/2012/04/sermon-1-april-2012-palm-sunday.html