Laying Down Our Palms For Christ

Hi friends!

It’s so crazy to think that, back when all this started, our plan was to be back in church by this Sunday!  My office admin actually called me not long after we moved to virtual worship and asked if she should cancel the palms and I said no, that I didn’t think we would actually be back together by then, but that we would find a way to distribute them anyway.  Well – we opted not to distribute them.  Currently we are entering the worst of things in the northeast and the Deacons and I decided that it was more responsible for us to remind people to stay home than to give anyone another excuse to leave the house.  So we adorned our front doors with greens and had our kiddos cut palms out of construction paper and just worked with what we had this year!  If you get a chance, I would encourage you to at least watch the gathering music portion of the video – I included hosanna photos and videos people sent me with the music.

Here is my sermon, as well as audio and visual.  Stay safe.  Stay healthy.  Stay home.

Love you all.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 5, 2020

Matthew 21:1-11

Laying Down Our Palms For Christ

Palm Sunday has always been a little bit perplexing to me, as a preacher.  On the one hand (and under “normal” circumstances), it is a big celebration.  We hand out palms and parade through the sanctuary shouting, “Hosanna!”  We adorn the altar with palms and create the most beautiful representation of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  We sing hymns that only get dusted off once a year and wave those palms high in the air as we sing.

And yet, as people living on this side of the resurrection, we know that is not how the story ends.  We know that those shouts of “Hosanna!” turn into cries to “Crucify him!”  We know that Jesus does not ride off into a sunset but to Gethsemane, where he was arrested and later sentenced to death.  We know the eventually the palms that are laid down ahead of Jesus on the road to Jerusalem are eventually abandoned and replaced with a crown of thorns on his head while he is crucified.

Palm Sunday has always seemed like a little bit of a paradox to me.  Because even though it is, for all intents and purposes, a celebration – we know that things are about to get really hard.  When I preached on Palm Sunday the year after the Boston Marathon bombing (Bruce and I had been in Boston cheering on a friend running the race that day, she crossed the finish line right before the bombs went off), I compared my struggle over preaching the triumphal nature of Palm Sunday with the fact that I still, almost a year later, had a hard time looking at my happy and cheerful photos from early in the day of the race.

Because I knew things had gotten really hard after I took those photos – just like things are about to get really hard for Jesus.

In many ways, it feels like an even bigger paradox to preach on Palm Sunday this year because we are already in the middle of something really hard.  It feels weird to celebrate something when we are feeling the weight of something that is really heavy and when our entire world feels more broken than it ever has in our entire lifetime.

And so, first of all, I want you to know that it is okay to come into this space a little bit confused this morning.  It is okay to wrestle with the fact that we are celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem while also deeply grieving what is happening in our world today.

But I also think it is important to point out that Jesus knows what is going to happen when he parades into Jerusalem.  At this point, he has foretold his death and resurrection and, while his disciples do not understand, he certainly does – he knows things are about to get really hard.

And yet, he still lets this moment happen.  In fact, he creates this moment.

As Jesus and his disciples approach Jerusalem, he sends two of them ahead to go into the village and bring him back a donkey and her colt, telling anyone who asks, “The Lord needs them.”  The disciples do this and then spread their cloaks on the animals and Jesus sits on them and begins to ride into Jerusalem.  As he does this, a “very large crowd” gathers (which, let’s be honest, a “very large crowd” seems really strange to think about right now); some of them spread their own cloaks on the road and others cut branches from nearby trees and spread those on the road.  People go ahead of him and some follow him and they shout, “Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Jesus knows what is about to happen – he knows things are about to get really hard.  And yet, it is still important to him that he gathers the Body of Christ; that he pauses for a moment, in anticipation of what is to come, and praises God.  The word, “Hosanna,” is an expression of adoration, praise or joy.  This is a moment for Jesus, even in anticipation of what is going to come, to joyfully praise the God who will not abandon him, to gather the Body of Christ in a moment in time when the world so desperately needs it.

And so this morning, our own 2020 stay-at-home version of a very large crowd has gathered to do just that.  To joyfully praise the God who we know has not and will not abandon us.  To wave palms, even though they may look more like pine branches or construction paper than the palms we are used to receiving on this Sunday.  To show up in God’s name and proclaim God’s goodness and grace, even though things are really hard right now.  To be the Body of Christ – the Church – in a moment in time when the Church is so desperately needed.

This past week, I agonized over whether or not we would be able to safely distribute palms this year.  Ultimately, however, the Deacons and I decided that, right now, as we are entering what appears to be the most critical stage of this virus in our country, particularly here in the northeast, it was more important for us to encourage people to stay home than to try to find a social distancing loophole just for the sake of tradition.

It felt like an easy decision, but also a really hard conclusion.  I talked last week about the waves of secondary grief that we continue to feel throughout this time and this was certainly one of those moments where I felt it.

But it also got me thinking – what do our palms represent?

We distribute palms on Palm Sunday because that is our tradition, because it is Palm Sunday, but are there other ways that we can honor this day?

I have two thoughts.

The first comes from what I have already had the honor of witnessing over these past three weeks – the ways in which people have continued to do the work of Christ in some of the most life-giving kind of ways.

The crowd that gathers with Jesus is laying down palms and cloaks as a sign of adoration and praise and honor – as a way of proclaiming the Gospel and their commitment to follow Jesus.  And so, while we cannot do this literally with palm branches this year, I have to admit, I am not really sure that we really need to.  Because over the past three weeks, I have seen a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and of a commitment to follow Jesus.

Every time someone drops off a donation of canned goods to the food pantry or makes a monetary donation to an organization working to ensure the most vulnerable have the essentials they need, they are laying down palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and their commitment to follow Jesus.

Every time an essential worker leaves for work – whether they are a healthcare worker, a first responder or an essential retail employee – they are laying down palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and their commitment to follow Jesus.

Every time someone drops off a meal or runs an errand for someone who is high risk and really needs to stay home right now, they are laying down palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and their commitment to follow Jesus.

Every time someone makes a mask, whether it is for members of their family, someone in the community who needs one or for a local hospital or nursing home, they are laying down palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and their commitment to follow Jesus.

Every time someone calls their neighbor or sends someone a card, they are laying down palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and their commitment to follow Jesus.

Every time one of our Deacons logs onto our Facebook group to lead nightly prayers or someone from the church sends me a video for our story time or someone just thinks of – and starts to implement – a creative way to “do church” from afar, they are laying down palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and their commitment to follow Jesus.

We are giving glory and honor to God right now, not by waving palms that we ordered weeks ago from a Christian supplier, but by living out the Gospel in real and tangible and hard, but also lifechanging ways.

By making sure the most vulnerable are cared for.

By holding one another in prayer.

By shining light into the darkness of this moment.

By proclaiming the bold and, admittedly, very hard right now truth that this virus is not stronger than God’s love and that it will not defeat us and that God’s love will win.

My second (and brief, I promise!) thought on what our palms represent and what Palm Sunday means to us, particularly this year, has to do with the fact that we are entering Holy Week and that the word, “Hosanna!” is used in other parts of the bible, in particularly the Old Testament, to mean, “Save us!”

Psalm 118 – which you all know very well, it is where the verse, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it,” comes from – is a psalm of thanksgiving for deliverance from enemies.  Verse 25 of this psalm says:

Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

“Save us” comes from the Hebrew expression, “Hosanna!”

And so, as the very large crowds gather and shout “Hosanna!” and lead Jesus into Jerusalem shouting, “Hosanna!” they are doing so as a way of offering adoration and praise, but also as a way of pleading for their own salvation.

And I think a lot of us are feeling that right now.

Hosanna.  Save us.

We are entering Holy Week in the Christian Church, a time when we remember the hard and toilsome journey Jesus took as he was arrested and then sentenced to death by crucifixion.  Holy Week is really where we put our own faith to the test – where we are reminded of the really hard parts of the story and are forced to wait for resurrection.  We cannot rush the story and we have to sit with the discomfort and the challenge of that.

In so many ways, it feels like we are experiencing our own kind of Holy Week right now.  We are traveling a hard and toilsome journey.  Our faith is being put to the test.  We are being reminded of the hard parts of being human, of the true depths of our brokenness.

And we, too, have to wait for resurrection.

But here’s the thing:  As difficult as this is, I truly do believe that, when we finally do experience resurrection, it is going to be so powerful and life-changing and overwhelming.

Hosanna!  Save us!

Friends, be assured that our cries are heard.  God has not abandoned us.  Resurrection is coming.

I am wishing you all many blessings as we head into Holy Week.  I have always said that the Easter Triduum – the three days between Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday is a special time in the Christian year because it is the only time that we get to live out the story in real time.

But in so many ways, this year it feels like we are living out this story in real experience, as well.

And so now we wait.  We lean into our faith.  We trust that God has not abandoned us.  We cry out to God to save us, knowing that God hears those cries.

And, in the meantime (in ways, of course, that are safe and appropriate), we lay down our palms for Christ in a new way of proclaiming the Gospel and our commitment to follow Jesus.

Because we know that resurrection is coming.

So have patience, strength and perseverance for the journey.  Give grace to those around you and make sure you give it to yourself, as well.  And await, with great anticipation and expectation, the resurrection that is coming.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

A Faithful Paradox

Bonus sermon this week!  RCC hosted our area men’s ecumenical Palm Sunday breakfast this year, so we had worship and communion at 7AM and then the men gathered for breakfast afterwards.  Here is that sermon!  Apparently I had a lot to say about Palm Sunday this year?

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Men’s Ecumenical Palm Sunday Breakfast
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 14, 2019

Luke 19:28-40

A Faithful Paradox

For some reason, Palm Sunday has always sort of perplexed me.

It is a paradox, right?

As Christians, we know that the story does not end here; that Jesus does not ride his donkey off into the sunset towards Jerusalem while the scene fades to black.

We know what happens when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem.

We know that the disciples – friends whom Jesus trusted, devoted followers that ran ahead to fetch Jesus the donkey that he would ride into Jerusalem, saying, “The Lord needs it,” – are going to deny, betray and abandon him.

We know that the shouts from the crowd of, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” will very quickly turn into cries to, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

We know that while today we cheer, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” later we will mock, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”

We know that the palms branches that we will all receive later on today in our worship services – palms that we will joyfully wave high above our heads and perhaps even turn into crosses – will next year be burned down to create the ashes that we will receive as a sign of our sin and our mortality on Ash Wednesday.

I know that Palm Sunday is supposed to be a joyous celebration, but there is a part of me that just cannot help but see a lingering darkness hovering over the celebration in anticipation of what is going to happen later on this week.

So – right now y’all might be thinking, hey I did not wake up at o’dark’hundred this morning to drive to Rehoboth to hear a real downer of a sermon so you need to find a way to shine some light onto that hovering darkness and give us a happier anecdote to take with us on our journey.

But here’s the cool thing about the Christian story – the light shines itself.

Because, as people of the resurrection, we know that the story does not end in the darkness of the night, but that light shines on Easter morning.  We know that the story does not end with crucifixion, but that resurrection is coming. We know that the tomb is empty. We know that love will win.

But we also have to journey through the hard stuff first to get there.

Our journey as Christians has highs and the lows, peaks and the valleys, moments where we feel like we have it all together and moments where it all comes crashing down.  There are moments in this journey where we will follow Jesus and also moments where we, too, are going to deny, betray and abandon him; moments where live up to the grace that has been given to us and also moments where we fall short.

After all, we are human.  We are broken.  This is why we needed Jesus to come in the first place.

And so we as we celebrate Palm Sunday – knowing what is going to unfold later in the week, but also that the story does not end there, either – we do so holding this paradox in tension, celebrating who we are as disciples of Christ, but also being gentle with ourselves when we make mistakes and when we do not get it right the first time.

Or the second time.

Or even the third time.

After all, being Christian is not about getting it right all the time – it is about being faithful through it all.

One of my favorites parts of this narrative of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is Jesus’ instructions to the disciples to tell anyone who asks why they are taking the colt, “The Lord needs it.” This reminds me that Jesus needs us to be his disciples, to do the hard work that is required to spread the Gospel, to experience both the good and the bad as we bear witness to God’s work in our lives and in the world.

The Lord needs it.

The Lord needs us.

The really powerful part of Lent and Palm Sunday and Holy Week and Easter is that we get to experience the extreme highs and lows of the Christian story and we have no choice but to be faithful through it all.  We cannot rush our way through it or skip over the hard stuff to get to Easter morning. We need to be here, entering Jerusalem, laying down our palms and our cloaks as Jesus rides by.  We need to gather around the table, sharing a final meal with Jesus.  We need to stand in the presence of the cross and bear witness to the crucifixion.  And then we need to wait for resurrection.

And then we need to tell that story to a world that so desperately needs to hear it.

And in doing this – in experiencing the whole of this narrative over the next week – we are reminded that it is okay for us to experience highs and lows in our own lives and in our own faith journeys.  It is okay if we stumble.  It is okay if we make mistakes.  It is okay if we do not get it right the first time.  It is okay if it sometimes feels like our lives and our journeys of faith are a paradox of their own.

Because resurrection is always coming. Redemption is always possible.  We can and will be faithful through it all.

And this is the Good News that brings us new life.

Blessed is the king

who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,

and glory in the highest heaven!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Telling The Dramatic Story Of God’s Love

Good morning!  Our children’s choir sang again this morning and oh my gosh.  They were adorable!  I need to get the video off of someone’s phone.  In the meantime, here is my Palm Sunday sermon!  Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 29, 2015

Mark 11:1-11

Telling The Dramatic Story Of God’s Love

I spent last week in Connecticut helping my father and his students open their annual All School Musical, a production of The Secret Garden.

My dad’s shows are always quite the production. From rented costumes, to wigs and makeup, to scenery that flies in and out with the pull of a rope, to lights that spin with the flip of a button, to professional headshots displayed in the lobby, to wireless microphones worn by every lead and chorus member with a solo throughout the show, no detail is left untouched. In fact, this year I found myself at Home Depot the day before opening night looking for replacement light bulbs for the lights on the sides of the aisle seats in the theater so that every aisle light was illuminated when the house lights dimmed the next day.

Now you see where I get it from.

So you can see why, by the time Bruce arrived in Connecticut five days into my trip, I greeted him with a very enthusiastic, “I just had a GREAT idea for Maundy Thursday!”

Without waiting for the inevitable “Oh no, not again” response that I knew was coming, I started chattering away about a dramatic lighting effect on the altar that would change midway through the service to note the paradigm shift between the Last Supper and the Passion Narrative. I even pointed out that my dad had spare lights that he was not using this year that I was sure he could gladly lend us.

Bruce took a deep breath, patted me on the head and said, “Why don’t you sleep on that.”

The next day, I was presenting a workshop at a conference when I asked my clergy friend Jon – who shares my love of all things overly dramatic – what he thought of the idea. He thought it was brilliant.

Well, that was all that I needed.

I ran back into the theater that night and told Bruce that Jon agreed with me and that we needed to get our gears turning. I was so distracted by the ideas that were floating around in my head that I did not notice Bruce take his phone out until he got a text a few minutes later and started laughing. Apparently he had sent Jon a text saying, “Thanks a lot for encouraging Sarah on this dramatic lighting idea. Do you know how much work this is going to be?”

Jon responded: “Do you know what else took a lot of work? Dying on the cross.”

I do not think Bruce responded.

Much to the dismay of the people around me who tend to get caught in the crossfires of my “great ideas,” we are approaching the most dramatic week in the Christian year. This week is the reason that we all gather in the first place. As we hear the story of Jesus’ death later this week, we will enter a three-day period of waiting for the resurrection; this is the only time in the Christian year that we are able to live out a story of our faith in real time.

Cue the dramatic lighting.

Let’s look at the Palm Sunday story. Jesus certainly did not slip into Jerusalem unnoticed. His entry is often described as “triumphal”. He rode a donkey into the city; people laid down their cloaks and palm branches on the road and shouted “Hosanna!” as he entered Jerusalem. This was a parade of pronounced proportions and should be honored as such in the church, right? Don’t think that the thought never crossed my mind that we should march a donkey down the aisle as we handed out palms during our opening hymn this morning.

(Because that would have been great on the new carpet.)

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was very calculated on his part. He had arranged for a colt to be tied up in the village just ahead of him, he was very clear in his instructions to his disciples to get the colt and his entry was timed so that there would be bystanders around to witness this event. But there was more going on than what we just see on the surface.

First of all, there were political implications to what Jesus was doing. He began this charade at the Mount of Olives, which was the location that people expected the final battle for Jerusalem’s liberation to begin. He then entered the city of Jerusalem and experienced what can only be described as a military procession; people cheered for him, spread cloaks and palms before him as a symbol of honor and worshiped him like a national hero.

But here is the thing: In the Gospel of Mark, we are told that Jesus rode a colt into Jerusalem, not even a full-grown donkey. And Jesus did not carry weapons with him; in fact, all that was on the donkey with him were a few cloaks that people had taken off themselves and put on the colt, not even regal blankets made to fit the colt.

So picture this: Jesus – a fully-grown man – was riding a colt with mismatched cloaks on it. Jesus’ feet were likely dragging along the ground as he rode this small animal. He was unarmed and did not display any kind of governmental paraphernalia as he paraded through the streets of Jerusalem.

There was something a bit tongue and cheek to what Jesus was doing. He was challenging the social order by taking part in something that typically brought great honor and integrity to the participant, but by adding a little bit of mockery to it.

Now you know that I tend to stay as far away from politics as I possibly can when I am standing behind the pulpit, but I think that there is a real lesson for us to learn from what Jesus did in this story and how it is told in this gospel. And honestly – I am not really even talking about national or international political battles, either. I am talking about the lives that we lead every single day. I am talking about how we interact with our families, with our friends and with the people in our communities. I am talking about how we choose to spend our time and our money, how we talk to people and the choices that we make daily.

We all get caught up in what the society we are living in tells us to do. At some point throughout our lives, we will conform to the culture that surrounds us, because that is what everybody else does. We do what the people around us are doing so that we do not stand out in the crowd. We try to keep up with other people and their families, even if that means we are stretched physically, emotionally and financially because that is what we are “supposed” to do. We set our expectations based on the expectations of others. We lose sight of who we are because we get sucked into who everybody else is.

And all of this turns us away from God.

Friends, this is when our lives start to become chaotic.

But time and time again, Jesus taught us that we do not have to live our lives this way. Jesus showed us that we can stand out in a crowd, that we can go against the grain of society, that we can be who we are, who we want to be and who God created us to be. Jesus showed us that we can lead the lives that we want to lead, not the lives that the people around us lead.

We cannot get so caught up in our societies and our structures and our expectations that we overlook who God created us to be and who God is calling us to be. We cannot get so caught up in the drama of this world that we forget the boldly dramatic ways that God is working in our lives. We have to let go of the chaos that distracts us and simply live into God’s call, even if that means going against what everyone else around us is doing.

I think that as we remember the Palm Sunday story, we are not only called to shout “Hosanna!” and lay down our cloaks and our palm branches in front of Jesus, but we are also called to ride that colt into Jerusalem ourselves. We are called to live in to who we are, we are called to stand up against the structures and societies that turn us away from God and we are called to humbles ourselves in front of ourselves, in front of others and in front of God.

That is what Jesus did that day.

Our stories should be inspired by God; not simply by the world around us.

Today, on Palm Sunday, I invite you not only to celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, but also to celebrate how God is calling us to create that dramatic moment in our lives today.

Let us celebrate the fact that we do not have to let the rest of the world define who are and the lives that we lead. Let us not forget that we can – and should – be who we are. We can calm the chaos of our lives and simply live into the person that God is calling us to be and we can start that right now.

This week we will gather around a table and share a meal that Jesus gave to us the night before he died. Then we will hear the powerful narrative of his final moments and his death on the cross. And then we will wait. We will wait for that Easter morning, we will wait for that moment in time where God’s love won over evil and we will wait for that blessed assurance once again that by grace, Jesus rose from the grave and by grace we are all saved.

Everything else does not matter.

Jesus’ tongue and cheek entry into Jerusalem tells a powerful story about how one man resisted the society he was living in and told the dramatic story of God’s love in a way that changed the world.

How will our stories be told? How will they change the world?

Thanks be to God!
Amen.