Sunday, March 16, 2008 – Palm Sunday
“Walking the Way of the Cross”
Today, Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week. So we are being joined by
thousands of churches who have gathered as we have to tell the story of Jesus’ triumphant entry
In Jerusalem itself, just hours ago thousands of Christians had gathered on the top of
Mount Olives, which lies east of the city, to reenact the events of our Gospel lesson. People
lined up along the streets, waving their palm branches. They yelled out as they did in the first
century, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” All along
the route, the Mount of Olives down through the Kidran Valley and up to the temple court,
people were filled with enthusiasm, energy and hope. There would have been a sense of
electricity in the air just as it occurred on that first Palm Sunday.
Yet our joy of Palm Sunday soon turned into a dark cloud of gloom. Palm Sunday is a
paradox because we enter the church with a sense of joy, then leave with a sense of foreboding.
The whole event of Palm Sunday is confusing.
It is confusing because this day points to the reality of how fickle people can be. One
week they’re there to praise your name. The next week, they’re yelling “Crucify him! Crucify
him!” In our confusion, we are left with a question. What went wrong? Why did they praise
Jesus one week, then want him dead the next? Why did they hang him? Was it because he
cleansed the temple of moneychangers and crooks? Was he crucified because he had raised
Lazarus from the dead? Did they kill him because he was too loving or too compassionate? Did
they want to get rid of him because he spoke the truth and totally embodied that truth in his own
I hope I have piqued your curiosity and you will want to search for the answers to the
questions I have raised. The truth is that to discover the meaning of Palm Sunday, you must be
willing to join me on a little journey of faith. On this journey, there is going to be a temptation,
however. Some of you will be tempted to take a shortcut. The shortcut is to attend services for
Palm Sunday, skip Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, then show up again on
Easter Sunday. It’s an easy shortcut to take, I admit, but like all shortcuts, you will miss
something on the journey. You will miss the answers to the questions I have raised. Yes, you
will experience the joy of Easter but, beloved, you won’t understand the profound nature of that
joy. You see, beloved, to grasp the profound meaning of Easter and Resurrection, you have to
walk the way of the cross. You have to be willing to follow in the steps of Jesus. To walk the
way of the cross, I will be offering five suggestions that will take you on this journey.
Step 1 – Read, mark and inwardly digest the readings of Holy Week. You will notice at
the entrance of the sanctuary we have prepared the Gospel readings for each day of Holy Week.
Take one of the pamphlets, set aside some quiet time each day and read the Gospel lesson. As
you read, don’t approach them as a novel or as if you were reading the newspaper. Use your
imagination and enter the events of the story. Don’t be just a spectator. Become an active
For example, on Monday the reading is John 12:1-11 – The Raising of Lazarus. As you
read the story, become one of the characters. Think about Lazarus and what he must have
thought, felt and how he acted when he was called out of the tomb. Look deeply at the
symbolism. What does it mean that he was buried? What is it that we like to bury in our own
lives? Emotions? A bad experience? Our shame or guilt for something done or left undone.
Martha didn’t want Jesus to open the tomb of her brother because it would stink with the smell of
decaying flesh. What in our lives do we attempt to bury because we can’t stand the odor. This,
beloved, is one of the most powerful stories in the New Testament, excluding the resurrection of
Jesus himself. So, what can we learn, what is this story trying to teach us? How is the Holy
Spirit trying to reach out and inform our intellect or change our behavior? You won’t know if
you don’t take the journey.
On Holy Thursday, continue your journey as we celebrate the Passover Feast with bread
and wine. The Passover Feast was transformed into our present-day celebration of Holy
And like the Passover that Jesus celebrated, we will stop and wash each other’s feet as
Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and taught them and us what it means to serve.
Then, at the end of that service, we will lower the lights and with great dignity and care,
begin the stripping of the altar. The choir will sing gracefully, set the mood and all of a sudden
you’ll find yourself transformed. You will be impacted by what you see and all of a sudden,
you’ll realize that you have entered into a sacred moment. Then you’ll think – how can
something as simple as stripping become such a powerful event? Come and see.
After the service on Maundy Thursday, and if you choose, you can come back to St.
Luke’s Altar and pray for a half hour or an hour in the Garden of Repose. Jesus said to his
disciples, “Can’t you pray with me for just one hour?” For those who say yes, the sign-up sheet
for the prayer watch is at the entrance to the sanctuary.
Step 3 – Come to the church and experience Good Friday. Once again, there are many
Episcopalians who avoid worshiping on this day. The Good Friday service is the one that is least
attended. They avoid it for many reasons. I have developed a theory why so many Christians
avoid Good Friday services.
In our culture, we have a tendency to deny death. We don’t want to be reminded of
suffering and the fact that we are mortal.
It is especially difficult to accept the premise that a man named Jesus was willing to
become our substitute and hang on a cross for our sins.
To embrace this reality means that we are required to respond to this act of love. God
becomes self-giving, self-sacrificing. He says in this act of love how much he loves us. Now,
take up your cross and come and follow me. Allow your self-consuming appetites to die and
begin to serve one another in love as I have loved you. To walk the way of the cross, we enter an
experience that touches us deeply at an emotional level.
This is how we walk the way of the cross.
Step 4 – Clear the calendar on Saturday except for the Great Easter Vigil. Once again,
take some time for yourself. Declare a Sabbath Day.
Don’t rush around trying to get everything done, going from store to store. Don’t go to
the office to get a little more work accomplished. Do begin to take time for others. Call
somebody you love or write them a letter sharing your journey on this Easter Season. Tell them
how much you love them. Tell them what you have learned. Celebrate and give thanks, for on
this day God’s blessing is filling your life.
Then, at 7PM come and join us for the Great Easter Vigil. You see, beloved, if you come
to the Easter Vigil you will witness a sacred story continue to unfold before your very eyes.
First, you will see the light of the first Easter candle, the light piercing the darkness. That light is
God’s incarnate word, which will remind us of God’s saving acts and the drama of human
redemption. We will hear the story of the Exodus and how God brought the Israelites out of
slavery and ushered them into freedom. We will revisit the Valley of the Dry Bones and see how
God promises to bring them back to life. Then it may finally hit you that the stories that are read
are your stories of God acting in your life as well. Secondly, you will enter the story when you
will be given an opportunity to renew your own baptismal vows. You will have the opportunity
to come back to this altar, recommit your life to Christ and experience the power of the renewing
Spirit of God.
Step 5 – When you wake up on Sunday morning, you will share the Great Easter
Proclamation – Hallelujah! Christ is risen! The Lord has risen indeed! Hallelujah!
On this journey of the cross, you will experience confusion, fatigue, sorrow and remorse.
I’ll be the first to admit this fact.
This journey is much like any journey in life with its ups and downs. Easter Sunday will
never be the same!
And you will embrace the idea that without a doubt all things are possible with God!