Revised Common Lectionary Reflection for Palm/Passion Sunday, Year A
April 2, 2023*
Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love. Psalm 31:16
A few thoughts on Palm/Passion Sunday…
Palm Sunday kicks off the biggest week of the liturgical year. There are plenty of celebratory moments to the day, some mighty fine lessons to read, and the sermon (usually more of a homily in the overstuffed worship order) invites us to engage fully in the week. Bread is broken, wine is poured, and it all goes downhill from there into whirlwind busyness. Before you know it we’re standing at the empty tomb in a heady mix of joy, confusion, exhaustion, and even disbelief. Where did the week get away to?
There are some wonderful resources available for worship planning for the day, so I’m going to forgo a reflection for preaching on the lessons this week. (Check out the links below to my earlier preaching reflections.) The challenge, I think, is to take this oft-told story and give it a fresh coat of convicting truth, to paint on the heart of each beloved child of God with words, music, image, liturgy, and meal. How does one “tell all the truth and tell it slant” (thank you, Emily Dickinson) so that hearts and minds are shaken out of the complacency of work-a-day living?
If many in your faith community are not likely to engage fully in Holy Week worship, consider incorporating the passion gospel into your liturgy. Otherwise, they will simply float from joy to joy without plumbing the depths of our human sinfulness and Christ’s amazing grace.
And now, some thoughts for you…
A dear colleague jokingly referred to this time as “Holy Hell Week.” She observed that during this most holy time, when we are supposed to be reflecting on the story of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, passion, and resurrection, most church worker types are instead engaged in a mad sprint of bulletin preparation, sermon-writing, worship rehearsals, and all the other regular moving parts of a pastor’s calling. Inevitably, a planned day of quiet prayer, reflection, and writing will end with a hospital admission, knock on the door, or water-main burst. The cantor will come down with laryngitis, or the trumpeters for sunrise service will bail. And at home, this is the week for sick children, Internet outages, dog-shredded-sermons, and flat tires. Easter Monday looks better and better with every passing hour.
When the going gets rough and you’re having a tough time keeping all the plates spinning, turn to the psalm appointed for this week. It makes a dandy mantra. The psalmist was definitely going through a rough time–even if it wasn’t Holy Week. Yep, you are not alone, even in the roughest, darkest, craziest, and most impossible hours of ministry. God is with you, and the Spirit of light and truth is there to sustain you. If the image of the broken vessel in verse 12, rings true, just remember that God does amazing things with cracked pots and shattered people. It is only in the breaking of our wills, illusions, and self-absorption that God can fill the spaces, enliven our dried-up bones, and place holy words on our parched lips.
You are called to tough and beautiful work. There is nothing else quite like it. Your heart will be broken at times, even as you will bind up the broken-hearted. You have the privilege of walking with God’s beloved, sometimes cranky and ill-behaved, yet wondrously made people in their moments of most effusive joy and their places of deepest pain. You will walk though weeks (like Holy Week) when you rue the day you were called to serve, when you are too world-weary and worn out to make another visit or write another word, and when you wonder if what you do makes any sort of difference.
Take heart. It makes a big difference. You are, dear friend, both sinner and saint, both broken and lovingly mended by the God of the cosmos. You have the “tongue of a teacher,” and you know “how to sustain the weary with a word.” Reread these words of Isaiah from this week’s Old Testament reading. Be gentle with yourself, because you are the strings on which God makes the music of the spheres. Your humble gifts for ministry and mission are multiplied like the loaves and fishes in the divine economy; in fact, you will probably never know the real impact of your call. But it is there. You touch lives because you have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus. God loves you and calls you–both to serve and to be nourished and fed. Feast on the words this week, grabbing what time you can. Pause for prayer. Close your tired eyes and rest; let the light of Christ shine in you through your brokenness and cracks. Remember, even as you tell the story, it is for you, too.
Blessings on your preaching, teaching, and worship leadership and prayers for moments of peace and refreshment. Thanks for all you do in the name of Christ.
Teach youth how to make palm crosses. You can find various sets of step-by-step instructions and instructional videos on line. But don’t stop there! Print up small invitations with your Holy Week and Easter Day worship schedules on them, and take to the streets to give out palm crosses and invitations to come to worship. Help youth practice inviting people by having them share which worship service is their favorite and what they find meaningful in it. Equip them to tell people why they have folded their celebration palms into crosses. Pray before you go that God will open your lips and your neighbors’ hearts and minds.
Palm Sunday was a joyous celebration in Jerusalem. When Jesus came riding in, people’s hopes and dreams were reignited, and they had high hopes. But these hopes were quickly squelched when Jesus was arrested as a common criminal. Where was their king? We still have one week until Easter.
Consider making “crackers” with the children. These traditional British party favors show up at Christmas, New Year’s, and other celebratory times. Fill the crackers with small Easter candies, Easter stickers and symbols, and colorful strips of paper on which are printed plenty of “Alleluias.” Seal them, decorate them, and send them home with instructions to wait until the Easter Vigil or Easter morn to “pop” them. That’s when we can really celebrate! Click here for instructions from PBS Parents.
* This reflection was first published in 2014.
Photos: “Broken Pot” Ian Stannard, “The Procession to the Church, Palm Sunday” Kate Dixon, “Pot of Flowers” momentcaptured1, Creative Commons)