Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday Sermon

The Liturgy of the PalmsMatthew 21:1-11
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

The Liturgy of the Word
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 26:14- 27:66
or Matthew 27:11-54
Psalm 31:9-16

Entering into Holy Week

We begin today the journey with Jesus to Jerusalem.  As I reflected on the Scripture for this week, I was struck by the complexity of this story.  We read a shorter portion of the passion today, but you have the longer version on the insert to your bulletin.  In the full pericope beginning in Chapter 26 of Matthew so many steps along the journey:
1)    the corruption of Judas Iscariot
2)    the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist
3)    the denial of Peter
4)    the betrayal of Judas
5)    the trial before Pilate
6)    the repentence and death of Judas and the planting of silver in the Field of Blood
7)    the release of Barrabas
8)    the stripping and mocking of Jesus “King of the Jews”
9)    Simon of Cyrene carries his cross
10)  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
11) Death
12) The opening of the tombs (prefiguring the resurrection)
13) The recognition of the centurion: “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

Each of these steps of the journey hold lessons for us.  Each story within the story presents an opportunity to reflect on what Jesus Christ’s last days mean about how God is working in our lives?  These steps raise theological questions:
·      How does God engage in the corruption of the world?
·      How does our Holy Communion offer God’s healing and renewal?
·      How does God respond when we falter in our faith?
·      How does God respond to injustice at the hands of authorities?
·      How does God respond to oppression and mistreatment by communities?
·      How does God encourage us to carry burdens for one another?
·      Where is God in death—especially violent or unjust killings?
·      How will we see the opening of the tombs, or the potential for new life?                                                                                                                                                                                                          It is too much to think about all at once.  But this week, we have a different way of encountering Scripture.  Instead of trying to do the analysis of the texts, studying the Bible with scholars or reflecting on text in relationship to our experiences, our Holy Week worship services invite us to know the answers to these questions through the experiences of corporate worship.  We are invited to live into these questions by praying together, singing together, being together this week. 
We began our liturgy this morning with a procession.  This is a symbolic walk—many of us will walk further today with our dogs, or around the supermarket, or in our yards.  So the procession is not about feeling the distance of Jesus’ walk, it is more symbolic.  In this short walk, holding our palms, singing All Glory Laud and Honor we have an experience of anamnesis—physical memory.  We come to know Jesus’ walk as we ritually engage in the entry into Jerusalem.  This knowing is somehow beyond our thinking, our intellectual work.  We come to know things through our senses—our experience of walking together, singing or chanting.  We imagine ourselves with the crowd that accompanied Jesus,  we feel the breezes.  Maybe we stumble as we try to sing, wave palms and walk all at once.  Maybe we aren’t sure when to stop, or what to look at.  Maybe we are distracted by others in the crowd.  Our knowing what this walk means isn’t a linear or carefully reasoned kind of knowing.  It is a pastiche—a patchwork kind of knowing that brings together our memories of other marches, our reflections on the words, the hymns, our sensory experience of this walk with the sensory experiences of other Palm Sunday processions.  It is potentially a powerful way of knowing God through shared worship.  But it can also be kind of confusing—it might seem like we haven’t quite grasped it, but over time, the liturgy works in us nonetheless.
And so I want to invite you to encounter God, to know in a new way through all of our liturgies this week.  Monday night (tomorrow) at 7 p.m. we will walk the stations of the cross one more time.  In this 30 minute liturgy, we will pray into Christ’s passion.  On Tuesday, at 12, Rev. Rebecca and I will go the Cathedral’s Chrism Mass.  This is the annual mass at which the Bishop will bless healing oil for anointing and blessing.   We will bring small vials of this oil back to Nativity for use at Baptisms and in healing. 
On Wednesday we will pray the monastic office of Tenebrae at 7 p.m. here.  Tenebrae is a monastic service done by candlelight.  We read psalms over the course of the service, we extinguish candles one by one until we are in near darkness.  As we enter into darkness and quiet and hear the words of the psalms, we have an opportunity to know God coming into our darkest, quietest places.  There is hope in our responses to the psalms, but there is also a core knowing that when the light is gone, God is present with us as we are present with one another.  This is another opportunity to engage the memory of those who have come before us.  We pray this ancient worship service with the monks and nuns who have prayed this way for generations.  Even if we have never prayed Tenebrae before, we have a memory that comes from our tradition.  We are not alone in these prayers as so many communities in the Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions will pray Tenebrae with us.
On Maundy Thursday we begin the Triduum.  We will pause before the Eucharist to wash one another’s feet.  You do not have to participate in the footwashing, but I think you will find that preparing yourself in this physical way to participate in the Holy Supper, the Eucharist which was instituted at Jesus’ Last Supper gives you a unique experience of the sacrament.  We will use Eucharistic Prayer D, the oldest of the Eucharistic prayers at this service.  Beside thinking of footwashing as a preparation for the holy meal, the footwashing is an experience of service.  As one who washes, we know what Jesus’ touch might have meant to the people he served.  As one who is washed, we know our own vulnerability, our needs that make us uncomfortable, maybe so uncomfortable that we are inclined to hide them from God.
After the Maundy Thursday Eucharist, we will strip the altar—preparing the sanctuary for Good Friday.  In the cleaning, we engage in the work of the women who prepared the tomb for Jesus.  We know what it is to wait for someone who is close to death.  We know the sorrow of burying someone we love.  Together we mourn for the people we have lost and together we look forward to resurrection.  Our stripping of the altar is both the preparation for Good Friday, and also the preparation for Easter Vigil.  Both death and hope of resurrection held together in this ritual act.
We call the liturgy from Thursday night through Sunday night the Triduum—the three days.  We do not have a dismissal after the Thursday service, the Friday service, the Holy Saturday service or the Easter Vigil.  It is all one multi-day action that sweeps us along through the procession with the cross and veneration of it into the vigil.
Maybe someone would like to carry the cross this year at the Good Friday service.  It is a solemn and sacred walk.  The cross we use is over four feet high.  If more than one person would like to carry it, I will help include you in this action.  When the cross arrives at the altar, we have time to come before it and touch it, or kiss it and pray with it.  One powerful theologian, James Cone wrote a book,  The Cross and the Lynching Tree.   He brings together the image of the cross, the experience of the cross with the hangings of black men at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan.  But we all know the expression,  “the cross I bear”.  Carrying the cross, or touching the cross or kneeling before the cross on Good Friday is an opportunity to know the crosses we bear in new and different ways.  Like our procession this morning, the Good Friday liturgy is an opportunity to physically know God’s suffering with us.
And the release of the Good Friday is not immediate.  There is a period of waiting.  Some churches will observe the 3 hours—a time of waiting with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene.  But we will observe the waiting of Holy Saturday knowing that death and mourning, suffering and pain were part of Jesus’ experience just as they are part of our experience.  There is no quick fix—we can’t jump to resurrection.  We have to just endure the pain of death.  We know that new life is coming, but we have to hold onto that hope in the midst of mourning and pain.    This truth about God’s work in our lives is a hard truth to know intellectually, but in the Triduum, we have an opportunity to experience it.
Our Holy Saturday service prays us through this time.  Rebecca will lead a short prayer service with a time for reflection.  We are in liminal space on the morning of Holy Saturday.  We are waiting and preparing. 
And then on Saturday evening we will celebrate the Easter Vigil.  This is the most glorious service of our Church year.  We walk from the holy fire into the dim light of our evening church.  We tell the stories of Salvation history—from the Garden of Eden, to the Exodus from Egypt.  We tell about the flood and Noah’s ark,  we hear the raising of the dry bones and finally we come to the story of resurrection.  Over the course of the liturgy we emerge from our posture of knowing Jesus’ death of cross to knowing Jesus’ new life in resurrection.  Our hymns will add the alleluias.  The lights will come on and we will find new energy, new hope, new excitement.  In one hour, we will be transformed through our ritual.  When we share Communion, we are eating the heavenly banquet with Jesus—this is no longer the last supper, this is now the eternal feast.  And we’ll follow that service with a lovely cold supper in the kitchen with sparkling juice and champagne, cheeses and sweets, we’ll know ourselves to be the community of faithful people who live into the resurrection.
On Easter Sunday, we’ll celebrate the resurrection with our glorious Easter worship.  But I encourage you not to just wait until them to come to Church.  If you wait until Easter Sunday, you will have missed the opportunity to know God in the whole story of Holy Week.  It’s like reading the end of the mystery novel to find out who did it before you read the complexity of the crime. 
I encourage you to come to all of Holy Week, but maybe that’s just impossible given your schedule or maybe some of the services are unfamiliar.  I am going to hold office hours after the service today and I invite you to come talk with me individually.  I would like to help you make this Holy Week as meaningful as it can be.  Maybe if we talk a bit about your own spiritual journey, I can help you to engage in some aspect of our Holy Week that will really speak to your own knowing of God.  Everyone here can participate in these liturgies.  I am happy to help each person participate in the stories, the gestures, the music—whether you are Ian’s age or Alex’s, Marti’s or Ruth’s—these patterns of worship have different things to offer us and I would like to support you as we walk through this week together.
Today we begin the journey with the process of palms.  We have heard the story of the passion.  And now we participate in the holy meal, sharing with Jesus and his disciples, fortifying ourselves, nourishing one another with spiritual sustenance for the journey ahead. 

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