Rev. Don Beyers, Christ Church, Bolton
There are few Sundays in the Church’s liturgical year that contain such striking contrasts than the Liturgy for Palm Sunday. Our shouts and acclamations of triumph turn quickly to cries of lament. As a preacher it’s nearly impossible to decide what text of scripture to focus on. Do I reflect on the triumphal entry into Jerusalem or do I ponder the cross? Perhaps I need to consider both.
As I reflected upon this I came across a sermon written by a 12th century Cistercian monk, Guerric of Igny. Meditating upon the Palm Sunday Liturgy, Guerric writes:
If today’s procession and passion are considered together, in the one Jesus appears as sublime and glorious, in the other as lowly and suffering. In the one Jesus is surrounded by glory and honour, in the other “he has neither dignity nor beauty.” In the one he receives the acclamation: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes as the king of Israel”; in the other there are shouts that he is guilty of death and he is reviled for having set himself up as king of Israel. In the procession the people meet Jesus with palm branches, in the passion they slap him in the face and strike his head with a rod. In the one they extol him with praises, in the other they heap insults upon him. (Sermon 3 on Palm Sunday 2)
The polarities of emotions and themes are overwhelming. We might be tempted to dismiss the disparities experienced today and to remain safely in the joy of the procession without having to bear a look at the cross.
Yet the Church, for centuries on end, does not allow us to remain comfortable. For good reason, too, I think. Our liturgy today speaks both to the reality of the Paschal Mystery, the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus and the reality of life. On the one hand we discover today and in the week ahead that there can be no resurrection without the cross and the cross is meaningless without the resurrection. The drama of the liturgies of this week intentionally draw us in, conjuring up our deepest emotions of pain and sadness, laughter and joy. They do so for they speak to the deepest mystery of our humanity: that all of us who are marked with the name Christian will also walk through our own times of suffering and resurrection.
This week isn’t simply about what happened over two thousand years ago; it is about the mystery of God’s redemption at work in your life today. And God’s great act of our redemption is taking place in the messiness of our lives, the tears of sorrow and the laughter of joy. This Holy Week, I invite you to feel the stories and the liturgies. Bring your lives into these liturgies. Bring your entire self, your joys and sorrows, and listen carefully to how God’s grace is working within you and your life. If you find your eyes welling up with tears, let those tears flow and allow the gentle and tender love of God surround you. And if you wake on Easter morning filled with laughter and joy, let your heart be glad.
My friends, Holy Week is not about the past, it is about the present. It is a story of Jesus who loves you and wants to give himself to you for life. This is the week in which Christ wants you to place your suffering and burdens onto his shoulders so he can lift them up and transform them by his cross and resurrection. Do not be afraid to let your heart go this week; do not be afraid to trust the living God whose love is working with you and who ever so desperately wants to draw you up into God’s heart.
Guerric spoke the same to his community so many years ago and I think his words are meant for us to hear today as well: “If, then, we want to follow our leader without stumbling through prosperity and through adversity, let us keep our eyes upon him, honoured in the procession, undergoing ignominy and suffering in the passion, yet unshakeably steadfast in all such changes of fortune.” And turning to Jesus, he prays a prayer which I invite you to pray with me as we close the first of our Holy Week meditations:
Let us pray.
Lord Jesus, you are the joy and salvation of the whole world; whether we see you seated on an ass or hanging on the cross, let each one of us bless and praise you, so that when we see you reigning on high we may praise you forever and ever, for to you belong praise and honour throughout all ages. Amen.