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The Reverend Kathleen Killian 

Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday 

Year A/23

Philippians 2:5-11

Matthew 26:14- 27:66

April 2nd 2023

Deep Journeying

Some two-thousand years ago in year 30, on a spring day under a full moon, faithful Jews from far and near had come to Jerusalem to commemorate the Passover; Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. As the city’s population swelled from 50,000 to over 200,000, the Roman occupiers put on a dazzling display of imperial and military might; battalions of armed soldiers marched into Jerusalem from the west, the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate at its center, riding high upon a stallion.

But on that particular day, there was another procession that also entered Jerusalem, but from the east. At its center was a Jewish rabbi and healer named Jesus, who rode in on donkey; disciples, peasants, and a large crowd ran along side him, throwing rushes, palms, and cloaks onto the road before him, and shouting: Hosanna in the the Highest!—as we ourselves began to worship this morning. 

For much of my life, and perhaps like some of you, I’ve exuberantly sung the hymn All Glory, Laud, and Honor on Palm Sunday, thinking I knew what Hosanna meant; and that I was shouting something like: We love you Jesus! You’re amazing! Rock on, King of the world!

But Hosanna doesn’t actually mean any of that. In Hebrew, it means something far less cheery and bright. It means, save, now! As in, Lord, we’re desperate.  We’re frantic. We’re in trouble. Hosanna, Jesus. Save us, now; our praise steeped in need and want. 

Two meanings; two processions; two kingdoms. The dual nature of our service this morning is perhaps no where more evident than in its title—Sunday of the Passion; Palm Sunday. We hear not one but two gospels; of triumph and tragedy; innocence and guilt; victory and defeat; faithfulness and betrayal; king and criminal; savior and slave; the curtain of the temple torn in two, the earth split in two, our hearts rent in two; worship that begins with joyous acclaim ending in condemnation. 

How do we reconcile these splittings of conscience? For we are players alike in the great drama of God’s redeeming love, as hopeful and hungry, as capricious and volatile as the crowd of humanity. 

As Jesus himself was, we are free to veer right or left to the palms or the passion, to the cross or the crown; to confess and repent, or conceal and deny, even arriving to the Easter feast without first having the fast. Perhaps we have come to this day with swords at the ready; defensive and ready fight; or like Peter, with denial at the ready, wanting nothing more than to warm our hands by the fire and comfort our troubled hearts. Maybe we are afraid, and have come with questions and doubts, but like Pilate, evade and avoid the truth. Or like the soldiers, perhaps we are here simply doing our duty. Maybe we have come like Jospeh of Arimathea, not expecting a return on our investment; or like Judas, counting the cost and looking for reward. Like Mary, Mary Magdalene, and the many women who were following Jesus, perhaps we approach the cross already crushed by grief and sorrow, on our knees yet standing. 

When Jesus entered Jerusalem so long ago, however the Jews and Romans came to that day, the whole city was in turmoil, asking: Who is this?And so it is with us; however we have come to this day, as we enter into Holy Week, the whole church is in turmoil, asking: Who is this? Though the answer may seem obvious, and the question even impertinent, how we answer it, and how we arrive to Easter matters. As we struggle to stay awake to our own collusion, ambivalence, and complacency, St. Paul exhorts us: let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. Far more than an intellectual assertion, these ancient words speak to the deep nature and purpose of Jesus’ heart and cruciform will; that of essential humility, surrender, wisdom, and compassion. 

Do the answers to our many questions bear bear the heart and mind of Christ? Do we arrive to Easter on a stallion or a donkey? Maybe, as Mary Oliver imagines in her poem about Palm Sunday, we can be like the donkey:

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadow,
leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
clatter away, splashed with sunlight.

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.

May we wait so humbly for the coming of Jesus, and then go with him where he leads. 

May we step forward from this day into the Paschal Mysteries; small, dark, obedient; faithful, even unto death. 

May we so love the One who journeys with us, in us, and for us; for the Passion of the Lord is here in truth, shaking the earth, rending the rocks and opening the tombs; and His Resurrection is at hand (St. Bernard of Clairvaux).