A Sermon for Palm Sunday
Two years ago I traveled with a group of seminarians on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During which, we travel to the Mount of Olives, and visited a small church built in the Bethphage area that commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem--as well as His journey to Calvary. The church was made of a thick lime stone like structure with two old heavy brown rustic doors. As I entered the church my eyes were immediately captivated by a big mural above the altar, filled with bold bright colors. The ceiling of the church was domed so the mural framed the ceiling in a semi circle shape, full of color.
The sky was made up of gorgeous blues with bright white puffy clouds, there were sand colored desert mountains in the background. Directly in the center was Jesus riding side saddle on the colt preparing to enter into Jerusalem. To the right was a crowd following Jesus, including some of the disciples and Mary dressed in blue and Mary Magdalene next to her, they were all carrying green palms. Then to the left in front of Jesus were more people--some laying down their cloaks on the road and other with palms holding them up making an archway for Jesus to ride under.
At first glance this mural is a typical depiction of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
But, upon further examination one notices a strange figure on the far left next to those creating a palm archway. The mysterious unknown figure was draped in a cream or gray colored cloth. You cannot see the person's face or any distinguishable feature, only the outline of the person's body with their arms out stretched (like this). Some say the artist deliberately portrayed this mysterious figure as the anonymous disciple. So anyone contemplating this mural could enter or interject themselves into the story. In doing so, the artist is intentionally inviting us into the narrative to be present and walk with Jesus on His journey from Jerusalem to Calvary.
The mural is an invitation to journey with Christ--an invitation, or request to be present and participate in not only the Palms, but also the Passion.
Today--Palm Sunday-- is our personal liturgical invitation to be present and participate in Christ's journey. We are invited to walk with Jesus from the Mt of Olives -> His triumphal entry into Jerusalem ->the Via Dolorosa (the way of suffering) which leads-> the Cross at Calvary.
Yet, we find ourselves today holding in tension the triumphal Liturgy of the Palms with the sorrowful participatory Passion Narrative. It is jarring to jump from the bright blue sky and green palms of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, immediately to the darkened black sky of Jesus' death.
Did you know, that the Palms and Passion were once two separate services? And yet, even though we now have merged the two into one service we would be doing ourselves a disservice settling for this drive-by taste of Good Friday. Palm Sunday is not Holy Week's drive-through happy meal. Today, Palm Sunday is our invitation to be present and participate in Christ's journey through the Triduum of Holy Week.
The Triduum, consisting of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, & Saturday's Easter Vigil, is the main event that Palm Sunday invites us participate in. All week, we will have noonday services helping us enter into Holy Week grounded in prayer. These services can be seen as the appetizers or soup and salad, to the main dinner that is yet to come. Then the Triduum on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening are like the meat and potatoes of Holy Week, or literally the bread and wine of our faith.
The Triduum-- in addition to Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday-- as I understand, is designed as one continuous service that's spread over the three days, as just mentioned, to help us walk with and follow Christ on His journey towards conquering death and liberating our lives.
On Maundy Thursday we are reminded of Jesus' great example of discipleship and servant-hood in the foot washing ritual, and the origin of our Eucharist with the last supper.
On Good Friday the Triduum service continues as we journey through the Stations of the Cross, crucifixion and death of Jesus. Leading us to the conclusion of the Triduum service on Saturday with the Easter Vigil where we can finally have our after-dinner dessert as we celebrate the Risen Lord.
So, even though we got a taste of Good Friday this morning with the passion narrative, remember that today is simply our invitation--invitation to the main Triduum event of the week. Won't you join Christ and others in this transformative journey this week? Amen.