Below is the homily text for Palm Sunday. Hope it will encourage you to wander into the streets of Jerusalem. Grace and Peace, Tom
Philippians 2:5-11 will be read in the first movement of worship. The focal scripture passage is to be read in English and Burmese just before the sermon. John 16:17-22 reads: 17Some of his disciples said to one another, "What does he mean by saying, 'In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,' and 'Because I am going to the Father'?" 18They kept asking, "What does he mean by 'a little while'? We don't understand what he is saying."
19Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, "Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, 'In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me'? 20I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
What an incredible beginning to our Holy Week services. With banners waving, the choir processing, and the voices of children ringing out in song we are summoned from the pages of Scripture into the streets of Jerusalem. The passage we heard from Philippians in the first movement of this worship service reminds those of this side of the Easter story how the story ends. The writer Clarence W. Hall puts it this way; “Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there.” We get to come to the streets of Jerusalem knowing that the cry of the crowd and the agony of the cross will soon be replaced with the miracle of the empty tomb of Easter morning. Even as we gather here on Palm Sunday we know where we are heading and that Easter morn is just a week away.
But for those standing with Jesus, the streets of Jerusalem became the journey into chaos. From almost the moment he called them, Jesus had been trying to prepare his disciples for this week that would change everything. No matter how he tried to explain it to them it seemed to they simply could not hear it. In the last few days they had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, seen Jesus anointed in Bethany, and hear the “hosannas” of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry echoing in the streets. They could believe that this was the moment of Jesus’ glory, but they could not hear that grief awaited them.
Our focal passage begins with quiet whispers among the disciples. One looked at another; “what is he talking about leaving us and coming back to us –because he is going to the Father? Do you understand? Did he tell you more? What do you think?” Jesus heard them and tried to help them understand. He told them that they would grieve, but that their grief would turn to joy. He used the image of a woman in child birth. He wanted them to understand that their pain would be intense, but that something amazing, something wonderful, something joyful awaited them. The disciples were ill prepared for the angry crowds, the hostility of the Jewish leadership, the apathy of the Roman leadership, and the brutal walked to the cross that would claim Jesus. In the tenderness of their roadside conversation with Jesus they could not imagine that only a few days in the future they would be huddled in the Upper Room quaking in fear; broken and fearful; shattered and sullen. They were so captured by the “hosannas” that they could not conceive of the tears of grief that would define them by week’s end. Jesus tried to prepare them for their journey into chaos. They simply could not hear.
To be honest, their experience of confusion is echoed by many who worship across our nation this morning. They will claim tendency and temptation is to worship on one Sunday and hear the “hosannas” of Palm Sunday and to return a week later and listen to the “hallelujahs” of Easter morning. They will miss the chaos of the week that shapes the story of Jesus and his disciples and shapes what it means for us to be followers of Jesus even now. Our faith is born in a crucible of pain.
It seems all too often when people experience pain or grief they cry out, “where is God” or “why is this happening to me?” We have bought the myth that our life through faith us just “hosannas” and “hallelujahs.” Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that pain and grief would be a part of their story. Likewise pain is part of the reality of our experience. The disciples would know the agony of the chaos and the cruelty of others. They would experience the agony of Judas’ betrayal and the bitterness of Peter’s denials. They would be forced to witness to destruction of the future they anticipated. They would know the tears of pain rising from their broken hearts. But, the season of pain would not define them. It does not define us.
Our first passage found in Philippians calls us to celebrate the joy we find in Christ. It is a passage of promise; a picture of God’s glory. It shows that God will go to the extreme of claiming humanity to make a way for redemption. Our passage in John draws us close to remind us that the joy is born in pain; the celebration is born in grief. During an Easter message, Pope John Paul II, proclaimed “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” In moments of uncertainty, in seasons of grief, and in times of pain these words are worthy of letting resonate with the depths of our souls. But, we cannot forget that the hallelujahs are born in the midst of the grief of Holy Week.
As a church we will offer a wide range of experiences this week to help you better understand what happened in the midst of this dramatic week. On Wednesday we will share a simple dinner together and wander through some selected scenes and hear some of the Easter week voices. On Thursday we will hold a Maundy Thursday service that will celebrate servanthood and remember the moments in the Upper Room. On Friday noon the doors of the Chapel will be opened and we will hear the passages of crucifixion together. I also encourage you to dive into Scripture; to read the Easter week passages; and to pray that God will talk you into the streets and draw you to the empty tomb.
I invite you to join me in a journey into chaos; to follow Jesus and his disciples through the streets of Jerusalem. Some of the moments will break your heart. But know that on the other side of the grief of this week that joy awaits us. Betrayal will give way to community; hatred will give way to peace; violence will give way to redemption; a brutal cross will give way to Easter hallelujahs. 22So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.