Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
April 9, 2017
Early in my ministry, when I still found preaching more nerve-provoking than delightful, (BTW, after over a quarter of a century, I do experience the delight, but have not shaken the nerves) I sat down to prepare my homily for Palm Sunday. It was overwhelming. How can one, in the course of a few short minutes, break open The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ in a meaningful way? How can any preacher do justice to the grand finale to The Lord’s ministry and mission? For me, the most daunting prospect about preaching on Palm Sunday is the celebratory way in which it begins. How can you bridge the triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the Paschal Mystery?
Bishop Ken Untener was one preacher who seemed to always find great delight in the enormous privilege of preaching the Gospel. And he was always eager for others to enjoy the same positive experience. Moreover, he was anxious that God’s people be truly inspired by God’s Word broken open in a meaningful way. And so, he was continually passing on “preaching tips.”
So it happened that after a few days of fruitless struggling, I heard Ken’s voice in the back of my mind: step out of your comfort zone…trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit… take risks! Inspired by this pearl of wisdom that Palm Sunday morning over a quarter of a century ago, after the Reading of the Passion, I pointed to the folks on the north side of the church and simply said: Say I love you!
Now it was the people’s turn to step out of their comfort zone…especially the men. There was a lot of shifting in the pews and a low ripple of laughter. So, I repeated…Seriously folks! Humor me. On the count of three, everyone say, “I LOVE YOU!” Here we go! 1…2…3…
With that, a mixture of voices, men, women, and children (the latter being the more dominant) basically whispered: “I love you!”
I didn’t give the south side of the church much of an opportunity to think about it. I simply turned to them and said: Now, you folks say, “Crucify Him!” 1…2…3…
A roar went through the church, echoing off the walls: “CRUCIFY HIM!”
I went on to explain that even as a child, I was confounded by the people of Jerusalem. How could they have given Jesus such a loving, joyful, and triumphal welcome into their city: Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! And then, less than a week later, be screeching: “Crucify Him!”
Even to this day, it baffles me.
There is something in human nature that makes it easier for us to shout: CRUCIFY HIM! LET HIM FRY! GET THEM OUT OF HERE! LOCK HER UP!…than to whisper, I love you.
Maybe that’s the challenge.
Maybe that is the broken link between the Lord’s triumphal entry into the Holy City and the barbaric way He was driven out just a few days later.
Maybe it’s the difficulty we seem to have in bringing ourselves to whisper, I love you, and the ease with which we bellow out, Crucify Him, that is the broken link that we call divorce, bigotry, discrimination, and even war.
Maybe if we had the courage to step out of our comfort zone…trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit… take risks, and proclaim love with the same gusto as we seem to be able to so easily belt out slogans of anger and hate…well, maybe then our world would be a better, more just and peaceful place for everyone to live.
Maybe if we were less nervous about being vulnerable to “others,” we might experience the joy that is to be found in all of God’s children.
Maybe that is the lesson that is to be found in the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ…step out of our comfort zone…trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit…take risks!