Palm Sunday (Year A)
St Paul’s Anglican Church, Byron Bay
9 April 2017
Well, here we are …
With Christians around the world, we mark the beginning of Holy Week with the beautiful liturgy of the palms and at least a short procession.
This is a different kind of service. It can be a bit chaotic at times. It is certainly longer than a ‘normal Sunday’. But this is no normal day. This is the first day of Holy Week.
The events of this week shape our identity as Christians.
The events of this week are the very centre of our faith.
For that reason, around the world today millions of Christians will join us in the observance of Palm Sunday.
Because this is a year when the Eastern and Western calendars are in sync, there will be huge crowds in the Holy Land. To make this an even bigger week tomorrow is the eve of Passover, the night when the ancient paschal Seder will be observed by Jeweish households all around the world.
Yes, this is a big week, but it is also a reminder that the people of God are divided and fearful. Instead of serving as a beacon of hope to the world, we hide our light under the bushel of religious tribalism.
Around this time almost 2,000 years ago there was the original Palm Sunday procession.
Jewish pilgrims were converging on the Jerusalem from near and far. Three times a year they were encouraged to be in the Holy City for the high Jewish festivals: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. But Passover was the big one. It celebrated the exodus from Egypt, liberation from slavery, and their unique calling to be the people of God.
Among the Jewish pilgrims heading to Jerusalem was a group of Galileans led by Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus was bringing his prophetic message of the ‘kingdom (empire) of God’ from Galilee to Jerusalem, from the edges to the very centre of privilege and power.
Jesus was living out—and inviting others also to live out—a new vision of God, a fresh glimpse of reality.
This was the vision that would take him to the cross.
This was the vision that sparked the birth of Christianity.
This was a vision that the church too easily and too often forgets.
Around the same time, even if not exactly the same day, another very different procession was making its way into Jerusalem on the western side of the city, the side nearest the Mediterranean Sea.
Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator for Judea and Samaria, was making his way to Jerusalem for Passover. He was not coming as a pilgrim, but as the Roman official responsible to keep all the pilgrims in order.
There will be no liberation of the oppressed this Passover. Pilate is here to ensure that.
The power of Rome has Jerusalem in its grip, and the ancient Jewish aspirations for liberation will be empty words again this Passover. Pilate is here to ensure that.
Beyond the scope of their vision, the men at the head of these two processions were destined to meet within a few days time.
One seemed very powerful.
The other seemed very weak.
The smart money was on the Empire. It always is.
But God was with the little guy. God always is. That is the message of Passover.
To help us tease out the significance of Jesus being in Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, let’s watch a brief video clip from Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA:
The beat of a different drum
In that video clip, Michael Curry speaks of the ‘Jesus movement’. It is one of his favourite ways of speaking about the church.
We are not best described as a multi-national institution operating for almost 2000 years and with vast resources. At our best, when we have not lost sight of the vision that Jesus embodied, we are the Jesus movement.
The Jesus movement began with an alternative view of reality.
Jesus saw the world differently. Jesus was counter-cultural. Jesus was out of step with his contemporaries.
Palm Sunday invites us to be out of step. Palm Sunday calls us to walk against the grain, and not simply to go with the flow. Palm Sunday urges us to march to the beat of a different drum.
This is scary stuff.
Holy Week was no Sunday School picnic.
But Jesus calls us to see the world differently and then to act accordingly.
In that choice to participate in the Jesus movement is the future of the church, and the future of the world.