The Rev. Frank
From Passion to Table
Today we take part in the Gospel story more than on other Sundays. While, there never is an audience in a worship service, that distinction is made clear on Palm Sunday. It may seem that there is no distinction between a congregation and an audience, but there is a vast difference. An audience gathers to watch a performance. A congregation is a group gathered for worship. Some of us have roles as readers, acolytes and even as preacher, but all of us are active participants.
On Palm Sunday, we kick the congregations’ participation up a notch. We began this service outside with a reading from Matthew about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We proclaimed “Hosanna in the highest.” Then we took up palm branches and sang and processed our way into church. You played the role of the crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. That was the easy part. But Palm Sunday is also known as Passion Sunday, for on this day we recount the story of Jesus’ suffering and death. And the crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem also took part in the betrayal, which followed that Friday.
Each week at King of Peace, as the congregation, you take part in the worship. This happens in your hearts, and also in the words of the liturgy. Easy words usually. Words like, “Our Father who art in heaven” and “Thanks be to God.” Today, the liturgy puts some very different words in your mouth:
“Let him be crucified.”
Harsh words. Painful words. Words that seem to tempt God to take us seriously in a way we don’t want God to act.
On that Friday we now call Good, Jesus’ betrayal was complete. He had been deserted by his disciples and rejected by the Jewish leadership, as well as the crowd that had welcomed him so enthusiastically with palm branches and cloaks spread on the road. Mocked, beaten and finally crucified by the Roman officials, the man we call the King of Peace was put to death as a threat to the peace of Jerusalem. In starkest contrast to his welcome into the city gates, Jesus was taken outside of the city to be killed. Like all criminals, they did not want his death to desecrate the city. Jesus’ cross stood by the road leading into town as a warning to any other trouble makers not to follow in his footsteps.
Darkness covered the whole land from noon to three. Then Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus’ betrayal was complete and we join in that betrayal each Palm Sunday taking on the words of the crowd as our own words. If the service stopped now, I don’t think you could gather much of a congregation next Palm Sunday. So far, we have seen Jesus go from glory to suffering and it has been our words that have carried him along that path from triumphal entry to a shameful departure.
Yet, on this day we also see how far God’s love extends. For our worship continues. It is traditional that there is no public confession of sins on Palm Sunday, because we already confront our sins so fully in the service itself. Instead of a confession and absolution, I will read the words,
Then during the Great Thanksgiving, which is the second part of our communion service, I will say,
And we continue not merely with words, but there are more actions as well. For even after we remember Jesus’ passion, especially after we remember Jesus’ passion, we are invited back to the table once again for bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. There are the words, “Take, eat” and “Drink this, all of you.” These words of invitation to get out of your seats and come partake of Christ’s very real presence as we remember his suffering and death. The story loops back from the passion to the table of The Last Supper with an invitation to join Jesus once again. We are given a chance once more to join our voices to that of the Centurion who proclaimed, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Like the crowd that Holy Week, we can go from singing God’s praises to denying his presence and his power, and we can do it in much less time. The words and actions of this Sunday show something of our words and actions throughout our lives. In subtle ways, we betray the faith that is in us. We deny Jesus by not speaking or acting when we are given an opportunity to say or do the right thing. Sometimes we deny him by saying and doing things that deny the Christ in us. And yet, Jesus still reaches out his arms of love to take us once more into his saving embrace. Once more Jesus gives us his presence, which enables us to “Go in peace to love and serve…”