Palm Sunday, April 5 2020
Sermon preached after the Liturgy of the Palms, via Zoom
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Amen.
is a strange Palm Sunday. It’s not the Palm Sunday that we are used to
or that we were expecting just a few short weeks ago. When I left for my
sabbatical month I anticipated that today would mark my triumphal
re-entry to cathedral life, that our celebrations and processions today
would also be a personal celebration as I was reunited with you all. But
today isn’t like that at all. Instead of being with you in a church
adorned with palm fronds and red hangings, I am alone in my study at
But there’s something strangely OK about this.
It’s not OK that thousands are suffering from Covid-19. It’s not OK that
our health care workers are short of essential equipment as they risk
their lives for others. It’s not OK that we are unable to visit our
frail loved ones in hospitals and assisted living facilities. It’s not
OK that every tickle of the throat gives rise to a frisson of fear: am I
But it is OK to find ourselves beginning Holy Week
in an unfamiliar place, a place of discomfort, a place of loneliness.
It’s OK because Palm Sunday is a day of unmet expectations, of jarring
juxtapositions, of emotional roller-coasters.
and his followers descended upon Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, a
disorganized crowd of have-nots and malcontents filling the narrow
streets and alarming the locals, the authorities were taken by surprise.
During the Passover festival, Jerusalem was always crammed with
pilgrims, tourists, and entrepreneurs: it must have been a bit like San
Diego during Pride Week. Spontaneous street parties were probably quite
common, and the military peacekeepers were quick to disperse the crowds
and restore order.
This party, however, was a party on
the move, headed by a man on a donkey, apparently offering a parody of
Roman rule. His followers were singing songs and shouting slogans that
named Jesus as Messiah, the one who would save Israel from her
oppressors. And as they descended the steep slope from the Mount of
Olives, the crowd grew and became more unruly. It must have been a huge
relief to the civil authorities when the mob went directly into the
Temple precincts without invading the city itself: this was something,
they thought, that the Jews could deal with. Or not, as the next action
Jesus took was to turn over the tables of the moneychangers and throw
the lucrative sacrifice industry into chaos.
triumphal entry of Jesus is an overt demonstration of power, and it sets
up a confrontation between conflicting understandings of power. In
these days when we are bowing to the power of our civil authorities to
keep us at home, when we are terrorized by the lethal power of a
microscopic virus, when we are watching the economic power of Wall
Street turn to hysterical confusion, our notions of power may be turned
inside out. Today is a good day to spend a few minutes thinking about
the different kinds of power in our world, as they are illustrated in
the story of Holy Week.
Most of the people who followed
Jesus into Jerusalem that day probably thought they were witnessing the
latest attempt at an uprising against the Roman occupiers. The symbolism
of Jesus riding a donkey recalled the ancient kings of Israel; the
symbolism of the chorus of Hosannas recalled a 200-year-old, successful
reclamation of Jerusalem from her enemies. The crowds were looking for
military power, for a successor to the Maccabeans, the Hammers of Judah.
But Jesus wasn’t interested in that kind of power.
Jewish authorities held onto power through their collusion with a
brutal, corrupt regime. They were shrewd politicians who knew how to
feather their own nests while presenting themselves as defenders of the
faith. They were deeply invested in maintaining the status quo and their
privileged position. But Jesus wasn’t interested in that kind of power
The Romans wielded power by brute force, with
military parades, swift punishment of resistance, and public executions
of the most gruesome kind. They were the world power and the Pax Romana
depended on them both looking and acting like they were invincible.
Jesus wasn’t interested in that kind of power either.
his actions on Palm Sunday it seems that Jesus deliberately alienated
all three of these groups: he declined to put up a fight against the
authorities, he caused a riot in the Temple by overturning the
moneychangers’ tables, and in his carefully staged entrance to the city
he was instrumental in disturbing the peace.
because he embodied a different kind of power: the power of
truth-telling, the power of self-giving for the sake of others, the
power of connecting with the deep, eternal, human longing for community,
for justice, for meaning. This is the power that Jesus personifies
throughout his ministry and especially this week in his suffering,
death, and resurrection.
It is a power that continues to
confront other powers in this world today. And it is a power that holds
our attention year after year, whether we spend Holy Week in the church,
or in a hospital room, or sheltering in place in our own homes: it is a
power that draws us back to Jerusalem, to the foot of the Cross,
patiently awaiting the glory of the resurrection. It is the power of
Palm Sunday, April 5 2020