April 10, 2022: Sermon Preached by The Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector
Today, we mark what we often hear called the Triumphant entry. Palm Sunday. The moment where we begin the journey towards Easter. One of the things I absolutely adore about scripture is how it speaks to me, to us, anew each time we come to it. This year, as I read Luke’s Palm Sunday narrative I was intrigued by a few things. One, is the many times passages from the Hebrew Bible echo through to this one moment. Another is the palpable divinity of Jesus who seems to know just how this will go as he even gives the disciples their “lines” along with their directions to get the young donkey.
Yet another, is the way the crowd throws down their cloaks; an ancient mode of welcoming a king as referenced in 2 Kings 9:13 (JANT, 140). Now, maybe this last one is also connected to the amount of period piece dramas I have been enjoying lately; like Bridgerton and Call the Midwife. Pop culture dramas that help me to imagine this act of spreading one’s cloak on the ground for another. The big shows of respect and adoration that I don’t tend to see in the world around me in the same way these days. At any rate, all of these moments in the arch of the Holy Week story bring a word to mind… extravagance. This word that literally means: “exceeding the limits of reason or necessity”, “lacking in moderation, balance, and restraint” (Webster’s Dictionary). It is perhaps one of my favorite word’s to describe God’s love for humanity. Extravagance.
And that feeling of extravagant love starts with this powerful vision of celebration and parade as Jesus enters Jerusalem. So, what is Luke teaching us through this telling of the Triumphal Entry? One compelling point of historical context is that as this moment was unfolding, so was another. Pilate would have rode in from the west steeped in imperial glory, flanked by his army with chariots and horses. Ready to keep order in case the Hebrews remembered their oppression and so too liberation from Egypt (FOTW, 153). From the East though, a more humble and lowly procession… Jesus… on his donkey. The people proclaiming the glory and peace of heaven in the midst of their TRUE king (FOTW, 153). These two processions set up the tension of the week from the start.
Details of the last days of Jesus and the story of his death hark back to the Hebrew Bible and fulfill prophecy, just like the birth story we celebrate at Christmas. We note the location. The Mount of Olives, the location of this spectacular procession is the hill across from Jerusalem, and is noted in scripture to be the traditional place for the Messiah to appear (JANT, 140). And Jesus clearly has local supports here (JANT, 140). In fact you might say that the joy of this gathered body also reflects the joy of King David, stripped down to his loincloth dancing before the ark as it is brought up to Jerusalem (FOTW, 155). Jesus himself is also speaking and acting as one in the long line of prophets of Israel. The use of touchstones back to the Hebrew narrative help to illuminate the role of Jesus as prophet, king, and priest.
We have this reflection of King David, a nod to Zachariah 9; “the coming of a new king of kings, a king of peace who will dismantle the weaponry of war” (FOTW, 155). And also the refrain of the people from the Psalms, which is about the kingdom of God that draws near. A challenge that in Jesus the oppressive empire has no say, no power, no glory. That it is the reign of God that we look to (FOTW, 155).
The Pharisees that speak to Jesus, noting that it is some and not all of them, deeply fear the empire. They tremble knowing that the chariots are rolling in across town and ask Jesus to silence the crowd. Just as so many others have asked and demanded silence in the face of the fear the empire tries to instill in each of us. Fall in line… live the status quo or else. Jesus’ response, that even if they were silent the stones would shout, is an invitation to us… to say yes to the reign of Jesus no matter what. The extravagant mercy, love, peace, justice and no to the empire that tells us we are not worthy of such extravagance. And we say yes, in the midst of feeling all that this week will bring us.
This week we are invited into the story of the final week of the life of Jesus. This story is filled with crowds. Crowds that shout Hosanna and peace, and crowds that shout for blood. It is the story that our entire faith hangs on. The story that allows us to truly trust in the prayers from our Book of Common Prayer’s rite for Morning Prayer; “In you Lord is our hope, And we shall never hope in vain” (BCP, 98). (repeat line together)
This is a story that invites us to not just walk this week with Jesus, it is one that provokes many if not all of our emotions. This week I can almost guarantee that I will feel: joy, guilt or shame, peace, comfort, anger, longing, desolation… and finally consolation. It can be an exhausting emotional rollercoaster. One that I, sometimes nervously, get in line for every year, because through the big feelings of this week I know I will be changed. And I also know that for me, I will start and end with hope and joy, and throughout we experience the extravagance of our God, of Jesus, and at times of those who found themselves in the midst of Jesus as this last week of his life unfolded. Shout out to the women who lingered right there through every beautiful and nasty moment to the bitter end.
And how, this week, after all we have endured over the last two years, and all we are watching unfold before our eyes now, do we keep the capacity to truly confront the big feelings of the story of this week? For me, the only answer is together. Together as this Body of Christ, as this church family, together as Christians all over the world. It is knowing that we walk this road together that I can keep walking. It is knowing that we not only have God, but also one another, that I look with anticipation and not anxiety to the story we are called to remember and remember well over the next week. So, how will you let this story wash over you anew? How will you allow your being to feel every ounce of what is stirred in your heart? How will you stay in the moment of the story and not rush towards the joy of Easter? How will you live into the truth that you don’t walk this alone, and that our hope is never in vain?
Resources: Book of Common Prayer, Feasting on the Word, Jewish Annotated New Testament, Webster’s Dictionary