Palm Sunday has always been, for me, a reminder of just how quickly things can change from joyous to nearly unbearable. Jesus enters into Jerusalem like a king with his followers laying their clocks and palm branches before him as people are shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
That night, Jesus, and the apostles gather for their last supper together, after which Jesus is arrested and beaten. The crowd now shout, “Let him be crucified,” and Jesus is crucified. Jesus had told his disciples this would happen, but I doubt they, upon seeing how the people were praising Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, can understand how they are now crying for his crucifixion.
A month ago, we were hearing reports about the Corona Virus and the need to “flatten the curve,” but the threat didn’t feel real. Then things started happening very quickly. Schools were closed and people were encouraged not to gather in groups of more than 10. Churches began canceling services, businesses being shut down and our world was changed.
My daughter said that when she picked up her daughter on the last day of school, children were acting as if COVID-19 was a snow day. They were getting out early for Spring Break! But now, children aren’t able to return to their classrooms, parks, zoos, and museums are closed and getting together with friends is limited or eliminated altogether. Life can turn on a dime.
News from New York, daily/hourly additions to death count make this threat feel real. We have been asked to keep our distance from one another and stay at home. Worshiping together requires us to connect by phone or internet. The number of us here at St. Paul’s today is limited to under 10 – and we are keeping our distance from one another. What has happened to our live together is horrific. When someone is in the hospital or when there is a death, we are forced to offer our support long over the phone.
At the end of the gospel lesson, Jesus dies, the whole earth shakes, rocks are split – the curtain at the temple is torn, tombs are opened and people see ghosts. Today’s reading concludes with the centurion saying, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” The lifeless body of Jesus is on the cross.
This, too, is a horrifying scene. Consider, however, the letter to the Philippians and the hope we know is to come. In Christ, God comes to us in human form and “is obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” Christ is then exalted that “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Paul is teaching us that in the face of death there is life. Jesus died on the cross, yes, but he is alive and we can experience the glory of God through him.
We call today, Palm Sunday, but our liturgy in the prayer book is titled, The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday. This is to remind us that what we refer to as the Passion of our Lord (his arrest, his torture, and his crucifixion) is an act of love. The word passion refers to strong and barely controllable emotions and desires. Here it refers to the depth of Christ’s desire to reach us, to turn our hearts toward God and what matters most. Many say that Jesus died for our sins, but I say that Jesus died because of our sins. Because of our sins, we could not see who he was – until, like the centurion, we experienced his death. Jesus died to teach us that true life is not found in that which is mortal. True life is found in relationships and in love. Love is greater than death, death is not the end of this story.
Whatever may happen in our country over the next several weeks, whatever hardship we might face, Christ is with us and the love of God will not abandon us.
Let us pray.
Loving God, be with us as we face the challenges that are before us. Help us, we pray, to endure the hardships that are upon us and to experience the hope Jesus offers each of us. We offer our prayers in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.