Sermon for the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Matthew 21:1-11+Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Isaiah 50:4-9a+Psalm 31:9-16+Philippians 2:5-11+Matthew 26:14-27:66

Over the past few weeks, I have sat in countless Zoom meetings with my clergy colleagues, sometimes with the bishop present, sometimes not. There has been a lot of discussion about plans to observe Holy Week and Easter during this time of pandemic when we can’t gather as a body. Many of us, myself included, begin our Easter planning shortly after Christmas ends, if not before. The particulars may not change from year to year, but, given that this is the week when the heart of the gospel unfolds before us, there is an understandable desire to make what we do as beautiful and seamless as we can.

So, many of my clergy friends have been twisting themselves into knots about how to retain certain parts of the custom at their churches: leaving palms outside for people to take, holding a drive-by Eucharist, livestreaming each and every liturgy from the church. The list goes on. Holy Week and Easter need to look and feel a certain way, and by golly, we’re going to do our best to make it live up to those expectations, even if it kills us.

All those people gathered around Jesus on Palm Sunday had expectations, too. This was the messiah, the one coming to upend the established order, smash the empire, and inaugurate God’s reign of peace. They were going to hail this new kind of ruler, riding on a not-so-majestic donkey, showing up the powerful by celebrating humility. And then Jesus was going to crush the oppressors, lifting up the lowly and casting the mighty from their thrones.

Those gathered around Jesus had their own expectations of what was about to happen.

Jesus had other plans.

Jesus knew what lay ahead, and he rode into Jerusalem anyway.

Jesus knew that the crowds who cheered so loudly would, by week’s end, shout “crucify him.”

Jesus knew that his closest friends would not be able to take what was about to happen.

That the one closest to him would deny even knowing him.

That all but John, the “disciple whom he loved,” would not be present at his death.

That one of his disciples would hand him over to the authorities.

And still, Jesus rode into Jerusalem that day.

He spent time with all his followers.

He continued to preach and teach.

He sat at a table with the ones who would fall away.

He shared a meal with the one who would betray him to his death.

And he went to the cross.

This was not the way everyone expected it to happen. Or hoped it would happen. Or wanted it to happen. And when it didn’t happen the way they had set their hearts on, they turned against him and left him alone to die

What a season for us to walk this road to the cross. Our bishop has made clear to those who would do otherwise that this is not the year to try to recreate things in the image of what they have always done.

Nothing will be according to our expectations. Nothing will be the way it’s always been. This is the year of the do-over. The reset. Expectations overturned in the face of reality.

We get to walk alone with Jesus into Jerusalem, through these last days of his earthly life and ministry, and all the way to the foot of the cross.

It may be the most real Holy Week we ever experience.

I pray that will be so.

ASEPSermon for the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas