Palm Sunday Sermon: The Invitation
The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?” And the crowds replied, “This is Jesus the prophet from Nazareth.” (Mt. 21:8-11)
It’s a scene of jubilation; full of shouting and singing and street theater like the conquering king riding in on a donkey while the Roman representative across town rides in on a war chariot. Self conscious of fulfilling Zechariah’s prophesy, “…triumphant and victorious is he, humble and victorious is he riding on an ass, a colt, the foal of an ass (Zechariah 9:9).
Blessed is the One that weeps
for us and with us
when we have lost our way.
Blessed is the One that comes
towards us in majesty and humbleness
down that ancient twisted path
straight into our gated cities,
locked up hearts.
Blessed is the one that hears
our shouts of joy
then endures our chants of betrayal.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken. In the beginning the crowds who had been singing Hosanna, “Save us” acted like they knew who he was or rather they acted like a people ready to be saved by a victorious king. They missed the symbolism of the donkey or the foal and so do most of us still when he don’t link the hosannas to the burnt palms that become ashes for next year’s Ash Wednesday. Furthermore, most of us don’t want a Jesus who has come to turn over our tables, who calls us out, who judges.
And truth be told we Protestants prefer a Jesus which is light on the Passion Story, light on all that blood and suffering. We go from the joy of Palm Sunday to the silent despair of Maundy Thursday with perhaps a prayer around 3:00 PM on Friday to a quiet Saturday to sunrise celebration of “He is risen.” Don’t really want to hear about that event in the Temple when he turned over the tables or how we too have betrayed him with our silence, our complicity with the princes and principalities.
One of the gifts of living in Jerusalem is that I usually get to celebrate three versions of the holidays— the Orthodox or Eastern Church, the Western Church, and the Armenian Church.
This year the Eastern and Western churches are celebrating together and Easter Sunday will come on what the Jews call the second Passover, the festival at the end of Peshah.
It’s a joyous and busy time in the Old City with many pilgrims processing around with large wooden crosses especially on what is called “Sad Friday.” And on Palm Sunday people will come from all over the world to process down the Mount of Olives from Bethpage thru Lion’s Gate to Saint Anne’s. When you march down that ancient steep path you see Jerusalem the way you imagine Jesus saw it gleaming in the distance full of promise and hope, the seat of power and the place of torture.
One of the places you pass is the Franciscan church Dominus Fleuvet, shaped like a giant tear because it is believed to be the spot he looked out over the city and wept. Whether it was here or there or a story to illustrate a point, I can imagine Jesus weeping for us who don’t know how to make peace.
And so as it was then and it is true today. We still don’t really get who this nonviolent Jesus was or what he demands of us now. We still criminalize political dissent. In Israel in the Knesset, their legislative body, just passed a law to create a database of Israelis who support the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS). They also arrested 4 Palestinian human rights defenders at a Land Day nonviolent protest. Criminalizing dissent continues today in our country too as we move further and further away from a government by the people for the people. This is why the Black Lives Matter proclamation includes a section on Palestinian rights and freedom. The global struggle for justice has many intersecting points.
In addition to these acts of increased repression, Israel has also just voted to annex land they confiscated from the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and to continue to build more settlements. A new settlement was just approved two weeks ago, the first new settlement in twenty- five years. These decisions were made just after the latest UN Security Council Resolution condemning settlement building as a flagrant violation of international law under the Geneva 4 Conventions.
If Jesus were indeed to return to the world, to Jerusalem, this is what he would see—another military occupation mistreating the occupied, another imperial power trying to squash dissent through unjust laws and imprisonment. And Jerusalem, the city of the prophets is still running with blood.
However seeking and working for peace has not stopped.
Last spring I added a new chapter to the YWCA’s Breaking Down the Wall Resource Guide that goes with our mini 15-inch wall made of five pieces of olive wood. The guide includes stories about the impact of the wall on farmers and women and even includes stickers made from photos of images and word that are written on the wall. The five pieces correspond to the five Sundays in Advent and five major events during Holy Week. The idea is that you would knock over the wall each Sunday in Advent so Jesus is born with no walls or you build the walls of separation during Holy week until you get to Easter and then knock over all the walls.
People loved the way this advocacy tool for talking about the Annexation Wall could also be used in liturgy so asked me to write Lenten prayers and reflections. So I did with the help of UCC minister Diane Dulin. Diane and I focused our theological attention of the word “breaking” and the places in our sacred story that intersected with the Annexation Wall or the walls of prejudice, fear, or racism.
I would like to invite you now this Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, to join your mission partner, the YWCA of Palestine, in the prayerful and holy task of breaking down barriers and working for justice and peace.
We invite you to walk the path of nonviolence and peacemaking with us by supporting our work to create a youth task force dedicated to working for peace and justice and women’s leadership development and training for security, freedom, and dignity. We invite you to join us in the struggle for liberation— ours, and yours, everyone’s because we are one garment of destiny.
We invite you to accompany us
as we accompany them
those border crossers for justice
who seek and work for peace
who break down, break through, break open
all the walls that separate us and segregate us,
break our bodies and spirits.
We invite you to accompany us
on the vigil that leads to resurrection
by facing those whose lives are constricted,
restricted, and targeted;
who ask you to stay awake and pray to
stop the destruction of trees,
the demolishment of homes,
the burning of families and worship spaces,
the stabbings and the shootings.
We invite you to bear the cross
to live with those dying daily
to see in them Him
calling out, weeping, rising up.
We invite you to join us
in breaking down all the walls
that divide us
in rolling away all the stones
that entomb us.
We invite you to live lives threatened with resurrection.
Palm Sunday marks Jesus’ descent down the Mount of Olives. We know there will be pain and suffering on the Via Dolorosa leading to his death but we remind you that we Christians also know that this isn’t the end of the story. The tomb will be empty and in Jerusalem a small light will go out from Holy Sephlechure on Holy Fire Saturday to announce to the world He is Risen. The light will be passed from one lantern to the next. Let us remember then, during this Holy Season of Easter, that the light of the world is shared. Thank you for sharing yours and receiving ours.
Blessed is the one that
knows our limitations,
who pours out his love for us,
into us so we can be
guardians of truth
protectors of justice
architects of peace.
Rev. Loren McGrail, member of Lyndale UCC, Minneapolis, MN and an associate member of Wellington Avenue UCC, Chicago, IL, serves the YWCA of Palestine and is an ecumenical partner with St. Andrews Scots Memorial Church in Jerusalem (Church of Scotland).