Best sermon yet, Father! – I was glad to learn that so many of us at Advent have a great sense of humor. For those absent, I did not preach a sermon at either service; hence the wonderful comments on my sermon! Instead, we read Mark’s account of the Passion Narrative, with parishioners chosen at random reading the assigned parts. It had been done in the history of Advent, as evidenced by the fact that we had the card stock narratives to distribute. What apparently had not been done was the random assignment of those parts by the ushers. As I joked with the congregation the week before, the early Church often trusted the selection of bishops to God by drawing lots. It seemed only natural that we could trust individuals to serve in this liturgy as well as many of those early bishops did the early Church! Fortunately, we were not disappointed!
All kidding aside, Palm Sunday is a liturgy that dates all the way back to Cyril of Jerusalem. Cyril developed the liturgy as a way to deal with the pilgrims to the Holy Land. As the pilgrims returned to their countries of origin, they spoke of the remembrance of Palm Sunday. Our liturgy is meant to reflect the events that transpired on that day and to draw us in as active participants rather than remain mere observers. After all, it was for us, each of us gathered together in worship of Him, that He endured such pain and suffering. We remind ourselves that our Lord suffered pain and death before He entered into joy and glory, that we are called to walk in the way of the cross so that we may find our lives and peace, that we are responsible for the death of our Lord, and that what is occurring is precisely what God had planned before the creation of the world! There is often a powerful realization about the depth of God’s love for us and our own need of salvation when one yells with the rest of the congregation to “crucify Him!” not once, but twice in this liturgy. What more can a preacher add to that experience?
That being said, it is my job to teach you a bit every week. Were I to have preached a bit this week, I think I might have reminded us at Advent of our need to keep God in focus in our lives. Put in blunt language, we are a people who are quick to go from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday without a lot of contemplation on the events in the Temple this week, on our Lord’s willingness to wash our feet, our Lord’s suffering at the hands of the Temple elites and Roman occupiers, on our Lord’s cruel and humiliating death, and on the seemingly utter failure that confronted His disciples and audience. Our salvation was costly; His willingness to pay that cost for each one of us begins to hint at the love with which He holds each one of us. Culturally, we are taught to desire glory. But how often are we unwilling to pay the price of hard work and practice that makes glory possible? Everyone wants to be the boss; everyone expects their great idea will be the next moneymaker and life-alterer for their family; everyone expects their marriage will be of the “happily ever after” variety; all parents hope their child will be a future President or world-renowned difference-maker; every child that engages in sport expects to hit the game winning goal or basket. How many of us, though, have a good understanding of the work required to get to that coveted position or outcome? How many of us are unwilling to pay our dues, hit the practice field or weight room, work on our marriages, or otherwise do the dirty-work that made the glory possible for others? And we are speaking only of temporal things? What of eternal glory and joy? If the hard work is necessary for temporal glory, what must be required of us for eternal glory? The truth is, of course, our Lord bore that heavy work for us. He took our humiliation, He took our lashes; He took our pain, and He took upon Himself even our deaths! And in their place, He offers to share His hard-earned glory.
The events that we will celebrate this week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Stations of the Cross, and Holy Saturday, are important in the lives of Christians. It is this week that signifies the true counter-cultural message of the Gospel. As the world around us seeks to dull its pain in drugs and alcohol, to find acceptance in the arms of another, to find meaning in a random, seemingly haphazard events we call life, and to put off as long as possible that death for which it has no answer, you and I are taught the meaning of love, the redemption of pain and suffering, and even victory over death! This week marks the time in history when God’s plan came to fruition in Jesus Christ our Lord. This week we remind ourselves that He is the King who deserves a mount. This week we remind ourselves He is the Servant of all. This week we remind ourselves that He is the firstfruit of the new creation, with power and authority to redeem all those who call upon His name! This week we are reminded that our suffering leads to His glory.
Brothers and sisters, I encourage you to join us for all the services this week. It is in this annual reminder of the depth of His love for us, and of the incredible power of His Father, that you and I are fortified to face the evils that come our way. This week, we remind ourselves the path that He walked that we might live forever, and we pray that we have the strength and endurance to walk the path upon which we are set, that He might draw others into His incredible, tender, saving embrace . . .