Palm Sunday / Sunday of the Passion, April 8-9, 2017
Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, PA + The Rev. Roy Almquist
Pussy-cat, pussy-cat, where have you been?
I’ve been to London to visit the queen.
Pussy-cat, pussy-cat, what did you there?
I frightened a little mouse under a chair.
This charming little nursery rhyme speaks to the painful reality of undershooting a great opportunity. Imagine … settling for frightening a little mouse when you could have visited a queen!
Many people miss the great opportunities of life. Legions of people will visit Christian congregations next Sunday and what they will experience is a crowded church, festooned with spring flowers, and, perhaps some glorious Easter music. But will they enter the sacred mystery that is the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ? Probably not. Like a trip to the Philadelphia Flower Show or Longwood Gardens, the visit may be a pleasant interlude but just a momentary diversion … nothing life altering … chasing the little mouse rather than encountering the King!
I know that on the first Palm Sunday there were many in the crowd who missed the meaning of the man on the donkey. His celebrated life had begun in the wilderness of Galilee … it would now end in the Holy City of Jerusalem.
In Galilee Jesus had confronted his temptations. There he had wrestled with the implications of his call and recruited some ordinary people to be his disciples. This beginning was marked by a voice from heaven proclaiming, This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.
Now in the great City of David, Jerusalem, his life would be sacrificed by potent authorities who were determined to maintain their power and control at all cost. If his ministry was launched by that voice from heaven, most certainly it would now be concluded by angry voices demanding: Give us Barabbas … crucify this Jesus! We have no king but Caesar!
But that is jumping ahead. Palm Sunday encourages us to remember that there was a moment of excitement and delight, when the people entered the joy of honoring a wonderful, one-of-a-kind individual … this marvelous man Jesus, who cured the sick, made the blind and the lame whole, removed mental confusion, spoke truth to the powerful and the arrogant, and, if recent reports were true, raised a man named Lazarus from the dead.
Everything came together on that first Palm Sunday … but not everyone understood. Many of those in the streets had simply come to Jerusalem to observe the Passover, and any visit to the great city from a tiny village was a source of joy and adventure for them.
Others knew full well what was happening on the streets of Jerusalem. So it was that the streets were also filled with the day laborers and lepers, the cripples and the prostitutes … real people for whom He was their hope and their salvation. We know that in time his devoted followers would abandon him, his closest friend deny him, and the crowds demean him. But right now … in this moment … he was proclaimed as their King. Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord!
Is there any doubt as to why there is so much confusion on Palm Sunday? This Jesus did come as the Messiah, the long-awaited one. But he came not in power but in weakness, not in might but in vulnerability, not in judgment but in mercy. He came not to launch a “regime change” … but to inaugurate a realm of love.
To this day there is much confusion about Palm Sunday. Modern scholars insist that it was for this procession that the Roman authorities arrested him. Whatever trouble he made among the sellers at the Temple was a Jewish problem, not a Roman one. But this parade that seemed to mock the Roman military could not be tolerated.
Nothing about this Jesus on the donkey reflects the world in which we live today. Today all that seems to matter is wealth and power and violent control. When we want to make a point, we fire 59 cruise missiles. And yet this Jesus we see riding the donkey, contradicts the world, reminding us, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. … Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Today our eyes are fixed on Jesus, riding the donkey … not to inspire us to live lives that will make it possible for God to love us, but rather to demonstrate that God already does love us and that God’s love for us is given without condition.
I love Palm Sunday. This was once a major celebration of the Church Year, a time of pomp and ceremony. We still have a Procession with Palms at the start of our service, but in recent years this day has become Passion Sunday, a somber first reading of the narrative of Our Lord’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion and a subtle surrender to the fact that most Christians will not observe the sacred events of Holy Week, and will only return for Easter.
I do not want to ignore the sober narrative we recall on Passion Sunday, but we cannot forfeit that poignant, dramatic event we call the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem … a time to remember that Jesus was and always shall be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
So let us celebrate Palm Sunday … let us feel the collision of two worlds. And let us also remember that pussy cat … so we do not lose ourselves in the foolish and insignificant. The majesty of God is moving triumphantly in our world … blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!
Thanks be to God who give us the victory through Christ, Our King! Amen.