alm Sunday is a complicated day in the church year. And I when I say that it is complicated, I’m not talking about the way that we celebrate it, though that is no small feat in itself. The Altar Guild has to begin its work about a month ahead, or longer, to make sure that the palms themselves get ordered and delivered before this morning. Once the palms arrive, then they have to be maintained in a cool and wet state so that they are still green and supple on Sunday morning, and not brown and dead. And the choir has to lead the whole congregation in procession while also trying to lead us in song, which is no small thing. Indeed, no church I have ever served has been able to figure out a way to do it completely successfully, so that by the time the end of the line makes it into the sanctuary, we are about half a verse behind the rest of the congregation. Then, of course, the church lectors have to step up to fill the various parts of the Passion narrative as they work to bring to life the central story of our whole faith.
But the complication goes far deeper than the mish-mash liturgical practices that come together in our modern observation of this day. It goes to the very heart of the story itself. At the very core of this day is joy born in pain. It is rejoicing, inseparable from brokenness.
As Jesus entered the holy city this morning, he was greeted in a scene unlike any other in his entire ministry. Great throngs of people appeared on the streets around him, shouting, “Hosanna!” as he passed. Never had he received such spontaneous eruptions of joy. What could bring the crowds to such ecstatic heights? The answer remains elusive until we are willing to open ourselves to the depths of their suffering.
These were a people occupied by a foreign power, and they felt that occupation deep in their bones. They could not observe their religious festivals without the watchful eye of the empire upon them; this very same day, Pilate was entering the city from the other side in order to have a presence during the Passover Festival, and ensure that no revolutionary ideas were allowed to take hold. The people watched as wealth flowed out of their community. The people reeled under the chaotic rule of paranoid and insane individuals ensconced with power by the empire. Helplessly, they saw the best jobs went to the Romans, and to those individuals willing to cooperate with the occupation. There was no justice for the people, for the courts favored citizens of the empire, and they were too easily bought by the rich in their midst. Before their very eyes, their own families grew ever more impoverished. They could not imagine a future for themselves. They could no longer imagine a future for their children. The palm branches they held above their heads were like the tips of an ice berg, held high aloft by deep and invisible pain and longing.
And who among us cannot resonate with the crowds of people gathered around Jesus this morning? All of us who have ever lost a spouse or child understand the deep pain of these people. All of us who have ever experienced the pain of betrayal or the injustice of a world stacked against you, can understand the suffering of these people.
Even more than that, at a communal level, the plight of these people resonates with us. Though we cannot understand what it is like to be an occupied people, we do recognize the great brokenness of our world. we do understand the frustration of shattered dreams and broken promises. We do understand the betrayal of feeling left behind by the world. We do understand the feeling of powerlessness before global forces beyond our ability to control or even understand. We do understand the hopelessness as we struggle to care for ourselves and our families even as the wealthiest members of society get even wealthier.
When, at last, Christ comes, the flood dams finally break open. The promised salvation has finally arrived! He is greeted with shouts of exultation precisely because we are ready for all the wrongs leveled against us to be righted. We pull out our best waving palms in eager anticipation of witnessing the might and powerful brought low. Our joy is palpable in our expectancy of the lowly and the meek being exalted. Christ has arrived, sisters and brothers, and the salvation we have dreamt of is surely at hand! Christ has arrived, sisters and brothers, and the justice we desire will certainly be swift and true!
The deep joy of this day is real, my friends. But the betrayal of this day cuts even deeper; Palm Sunday lays bare the depth of our brokenness. If we are honest with ourselves, the salvation we desire is only vindication. If we are honest, the justice we long for is only retribution. The very same joy with which we greet Jesus this day also reveals that the salvation we want is cut of the same cloth as the brokenness of our world and the justice we seek is of the same substance of the injustice we have suffered.
The very joy with which we greet Jesus on this day reveals that we are fundamentally unable to imagine this world apart from its brokenness, suffering, and injustice. The truth is, my friends, we do not desire salvation or justice, we only wish that we were not on the losing side of pain and injustice. The truth is, we desire only a change in circumstances.
But events are already unfolding before us, and a great stone is beginning to roll aside, which reveals that Christ offers us nothing that we want. He brings with him no great army to set us free and he carries not a new scale upon which the rights and wrongs of the world will find new balance. Instead, Christ moves deeper and deeper into our own pain, into our own brokenness and suffering, taking them all unto himself.
The salvation that Jesus offers threatens to transform the world. It threatens to transform us. For that, we will turn on him. For that we will betray him and castigate him. For that he must die.
But that story is still coming, indeed it is nearly at hand. But for now, Christ has arrived. For now, the long-awaited salvation is at hand. At last, the evilness of the world will surely be cast out. At last, the dream of the promised land we have held for so long will be fulfilled.
Christ is here! Let us raise our voices in shouts of joy! Let us rejoice in the anticipation of the vindication and retribution for which we have waited so long! Christ is here, hosanna in the highest heaven!
Preached by Adam Yates