Happy Palm Sunday!
It is week six of our Lenten sermon series, Boot Camp for the Soul and the theme for this morning is Celebrate & Wait. I had a great time preaching through this series and I look forward to taking a look at some of the other series in the future.
I have always struggled with the paradox of preaching Palm Sunday when I know Maundy Thursday & Good Friday are coming. In light of everything that happened in Syria last week, I think I lived out that paradox as I was preparing my sermon this week. It’s always so hard to find a balance.
We really had a really wonderful worship this morning at RCC this morning, which was exactly what I needed after a challenging sermon writing week and just the icing on the cake of a great weekend that started with our Easter Egg Hunt yesterday.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
April 9, 2017
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Celebrate & Wait
We have come to the end of our six-week sermon series, Boot Camp for the Soul.
When my brother-in-law finished boot camp in 2009, the Weavers all eagerly descended upon Cape May for the graduation festivities. I have to admit, the pomp and circumstance of it all was kind of exciting. There was a buzz in the air when we arrived and the anticipation only grew as we sat through the family orientation and then were shuffled into the big gymnasium for the ceremony.
When the music started and the non-rates all marched in, cheers erupted as family members frantically scanned the group to find their people (which, as you might know, is more difficult than one might think since they all kind of look the same at that point). Eventually I started to hear shouts of, “There he is!” and, “Do you see her over there?” Tears filled the eyes of proud mothers, fathers, spouses and siblings as they saw their loved ones for the first time in weeks.
The ceremony, itself, was impressive. There was music, marching and speeches that inspired not only the graduates, but also those who had come to support them.
I regret to inform you all that I have no such pomp and circumstance for us this morning as we gather and complete our own spiritual boot camp. Though it is Palm Sunday, which does have a celebratory nature to it. It is on this Sunday ever year when we enthusiastically sing hymns that make us feel as though we are marching, wave our palms and shout, “Hosanna!”
(It is also on this Sunday afternoon every year when I usually say to Bruce, “Next year I am getting a donkey!”)
Though, I have to be honest, as much as I love the, dare I say, pomp and circumstance of Palm Sunday, I have always struggled with the paradox of a story that I know does not end with Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. I know that the shouts of, “Hosanna!” we hear today will be a distant memory on Thursday night as we remember those cries, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” It is hard for me to full enter this celebration when I feel as though part of me is just waiting for what is going to happen in Calvary.
As I began to think about my sermon for this week, part of me wished this Boot Camp for the Soul sermon series was set up to go through Easter Sunday. I just kept thinking, “But we are not done yet!” After all, we have one more hurdle to get through, do we not? We have to get past the Passion Narrative this week; we have to see Jesus’ journey to the cross through before we are truly ready to see how this boot camp has transformed us.
As it turns out, the creators of this sermon series actually did this intentionally.
In the flurry of celebration, Jesus’ followers may forget that the journey is not really over, that darker days remain before Jesus’ final victory. Their biggest challenge still lies ahead. Boot camp, after all, is not an end unto itself. It is preparation for the challenges still to come.
I actually really appreciate the way this prompt for the end of our spiritual boot camp honors the complexity of Palm Sunday and Holy Week. Because, quite frankly, it mirrors the complexity of what is going on in our lives and in the world right now.
It was hard not to be moved by the images and videos that came out of Syria this week. I do not know about the rest of you, but I had a really difficult time watching news footage following the chemical attacks. I actually closed out of my web browser at one point; I turned away and thought to myself, “I just can’t watch this right now.”
And the truth is, I don’t have to. I can turn it off; no one is making me watch the news or be informed about what is doing on in the world. If I wanted to, I could live my life in a sheltered bubble.
And boy, don’t I want to sometimes.
But this week I eventually asked myself, what kind of Christian would I be if I spent the last few days of Lent remembering and reflecting on Jesus’ violent and brutal death on the cross, but then ignored the realities of the violent and brutal things that are happening in our world right now? These are the hard parts of our faith that we have to face; that I believe we are being called to face.
Which brings me back to Palm Sunday; because, as much as I would like to, I do not think we can fully compartmentalize what is happening today with what is going to happen later this week. But I do think that in the midst of the paradox, we still have to celebrate this moment.
When my brother-in-law graduated from boot camp, the hard work was not over. In fact, eight year later, I think he would tell you the hard work was really only beginning. But that did not mean we should not have celebrated that moment.
And that is what we are doing here this morning.
The truth is, Palm Sunday is not just about celebrating part of Jesus’ story, it is about celebrating the hope that he carried with him in that moment. Many scholars have compared his triumphal entry into Jerusalem to imperial Roman processions, which really sheds light on his popularity at the time. At that point, people had followed Jesus for three years. They had witnessed his miracles, experienced the healing of his touch and listened to the Good News he so boldly proclaimed. I can only imagine the excitement, buzz and anticipation that must have been in the air that day (probably a little bit more than we experienced at Boot Camp graduation in Cape May!). This was a moment of hope for the people who followed Jesus.
In the world we live in today, it is just as important to celebrate these moments of hope. Far too often, we are struck by images of pain, suffering and violence and they can be so overwhelming at times. But as Christians, we are people of the resurrection; we believe in the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we believe in the Good News that Jesus preached throughout his lifetime and that has sustained our faith for 2,000 years.
Today we celebrate the moments of hope in our lives, both big and small. We celebrate the sun that is shining after a long week of rain, the joy and laughter of our children at yesterday’s Easter Egg Hunt, the beautiful music that fills our sanctuary today and the gift that is the fellowship of this community. We celebrate a faith that reminds us, over and over again, that love will win, that light will shine and that grace will prevail; a faith that was stronger than Jesus’ death on the cross and that will continue to be stronger than whatever we will face in our lives today.
But as we celebrate, we do not close ourselves off to the hard truths of this world; we wait for what we know is coming. We celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem knowing what is to come later this week. We celebrate the moments of hope in our lives knowing that people are experiencing real pain, suffering and sadness, both in our community and around the world. We celebrate the radical and redeeming message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ knowing there is still so much work that needs to be done.
And as people faith, we remember that we are being called to do this work.
Boot camp is over; but the real work is only beginning.
The good news is that the hard work we have all done during this six-week spiritual boot camp – thinking about the need for change, resetting, hydrating, redefining and facing those dead ends – has prepared us for the journey that lies ahead. We are ready for the challenges of Holy Week. We are ready for the hardships we will face in our lives. We are ready to watch the news and engage in some of the hard things that are happening today. We are ready to share our moments of hope and the good news of the resurrection with a world that so desperately needs hear it.
(And this is a total shameless plug, but if you are able, I would strongly encourage you to come and worship with us on Thursday evening at 7PM. It is a very powerful service; we will hear the narrative of the foot washing, share in the sacrament of Holy Communion and then the Passion Narrative will be read. A labyrinth will be open in Fellowship Hall for an hour before and after the service, as well as from 8AM to 8PM on Good Friday.)
This morning, we hear the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as told in the Gospel of Matthew. As I was reading it this week, I was particularly struck by Jesus’ instructions to his disciples when he said, “If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.”
So what does God need from us today? What does God need from us as individuals and us as a community of faith?
Today, may we – like the psalmist sings – give thanks to God for God is good! May we rejoice, may we see what is marvelous and may we shout with great joy, proclamation and thanksgiving that blessed are those who come in the name of the God.
Thanks be to God!
 A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C, compiled by Jessica Miller Kelley, pg. 29
 A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C, compiled by Jessica Miller Kelley, pg. 28
 Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Volume 2, edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, pg. 152 & 154 (Pastoral Perspective)
 Matthew 21:3, NRSV
 Psalm 118:1, 29, NRSV
 Psalm 118:24, NRSV
 Psalm 118:23, NRSV
 Psalm 118:26, NRSV