Welcome to Holy Week. The center of our Christian year together. Everything we do operates in and out of this week. Since Advent and Christmas, Holy Week has been reeling us in like a magnet. Pulling us through Epiphany and Lent all so that we might arrive at this very week. And then after this week, the magnet gets flipped and Holy Week will push us back out into the rest of the year, launching us through Pentecost and that long, long season creatively named “After Pentecost” into Reformation and All Saints Sunday and finally coming to rest in November, on the last Sunday of our year, Christ the King. So again, welcome to Holy Week. It’s kind of a big deal.
This is the time of year when we hear more scripture than we are used to. Whole chapters instead of a handful of verses lifted out of the paragraphs in which they were placed. We do this because we need to see the whole picture, not just a corner of it. We need the story itself to preach to us rather than one part of it.
If you notice at the top left of your bulletin, it says Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion. Today used to just be Palm Sunday, but now its also Passion Sunday. Church leaders became worried that people were not showing up for all of Holy Week. For Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. People were skipping the messy part. They were going from Palm Branches to Empty Tombs, without the suffering and crucifixion in between. People were getting to shout “Hosanna in the highest!” and “He is risen!” without ever uttering “Crucify him!” People weren’t getting the whole story – they were missing the whole dead Jesus thing in between.
So it was changed to Palm/Passion Sunday. That way the people who can’t or won’t come back for Thursday and Friday will still get a glimpse of the whole story. So while we’ve heard the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. While we’ve waved our palms to the glory of God, we are about to make a shift. A shift to the rest of the story. The rest of the drama for which these palm branches are kindling. They spark a whole series of events – last meals with best friends, betrayal and abandonment from those very same friends, garden standoffs, taunting crowds and thorny crowns. It is a strange movement to make, because these palms that we hold in our hand are a symbol of peace. But these very symbols that we wave lead us into a story of violence and conflict. A story in which God will die at the hands of violence, so as to show God’s unending care and compassion for all of creation.
So listen to this story as it unfolds. It is our story. Let it preach to you. Listen for what this story says about who the God revealed in Jesus is. Listen for the glimpses of hope that Luke leaves in the story like a trail of breadcrumbs along the way. Listen as Jesus sits down at a table with those saints and sinners. Those doubters and denyers; those betrayers and abandoners he’s calls his disciples. Listen as he hands them bread and wine and says this is my body, my blood…for you. If so for them, then also for us too. Listen as he heals the ear of the wounded slave and as he tells his disciples to put down their swords. If so for them, then also for us. Listen as Jesus forgives the very people who put him to death and as he welcomes into paradise the criminal who was crucified beside him. If so for them, then also for us.
As we come to the end of the story, at the suggestion of one of my favorite preachers, William Sloan Coffin, I urge you not to throw away your palm branches, these symbols of peace, once your leave here. Instead, during this Holy Week, put them in a prominent place in your home and spend a few minutes every day looking at your palm branch. Then ask yourself, “ For what kind of a God do I wave this symbol of peace?”
And now a prayer from St. Francis.
Oh Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
Oh, divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console.;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love:
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Thanks be to God. Amen.