April 5th: The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for Sunday, April 5th, was preached using the below manuscript. The gospel text was  Matthew 27.11-54.

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
5 April 2020
St. Hilda St. Patrick, Edmonds, Digital
The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday
Matthew 27:11-54

This is a funny Sunday.
It’s a Sunday where we change our focus.
For the last five weeks or so
we’ve been looking at how to live like Jesus.
We’ve been noticing what it takes to believe in him
as Martha did last week.
We’ve seen how he works miracles
to reveal himself as God’s chosen.
We know that he’s prepared
to lay down his life for his friends
which raising Lazarus from the dead sets into motion.
Today we conclude learning how to live like Jesus:
the last part of living like Jesus
is the last part of all of our living: dying.
Today is a funny day
because we shift our focus from living like Jesus
to really remembring Jesus’ death.
We stop looking at the last stage of preparation
for the baptismal font
and start living together,
acting and remembering in our bodies,
the last days of Jesus’ life.
From the last days of Jesus’ life,
the world has been forever changed.

From the earliest lectionaries,
the gospel appointed for Eucharist today
has been that of our Lord’s Passion,
specifically the one we heard today.
Through the rest of the week
Luke’s would be heard on Wednesday
and John’s on Friday.
Eventually Mark made his way to Tuesday
and then Monday and Tuesday as other things moved around.
Even after a pilgrim, Egeria,
brought a palm procession back to continental Europe,
it was a devotion disconnected from the Mass.
Waving palms, washing feet, venerating the cross,
these are all
a different kind of remembering
than we do each week.
Every we week we remember Jesus’
life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
When we’re gathered together,
we remember when he was at table with friends
and how he took, blessed, broke, and shared bread.
Whether we’re gathered together or not
we remember that in Jesus’ life,
the world has been forever changed.

This week, starting on this funny day of contrasts,
we move from remembering in our minds
to remembering in our bodies:
from which the word “mimicry” comes.
We do this only two or three times in our church year.
When we have Christmas or Epiphany
(or a mixture of both)
and when we go through the last week,
revisiting, retracing, and reliving Jesus’ last days.
Joined with Jesus’ disciples
who walked those last days with him,
our lives are forever changed.

That’s the hinge of today —
The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday.
Our current Prayer Book uses both names,
although palms weren’t an explicit part
of American Anglican tradition
until 1960.
From the oldest lectionaries,
the gospel for today has been
some selection of the Passion,
beginning with Matthew’s.
That’s why we’re hearing this passage today
and not the triumphal entry
as we gather digitally for Morning Prayer.
The Church has always had this day
as the Sunday before the Resurrection,
the Sunday of the Passion,
the Sixth Sunday in Lent in some traditions,
where those who want to be baptized
hear publicly about the death of the one
into whom they will be baptized.
The churches concludes Lent,
even as it hinges into Holy Week
and starts the week long Passion Play
by reminding baptismal candidates
and those who would renew their baptismal promises
that in the waters of the font they will die or have died like Jesus.
In that death,
their lives will be
and our lives have been
forever changed.

The hinge of today,
last Sunday in Lent,
first day of Holy Week,
happens at a time unlike any of us
has ever known.
Various memes have circulated among clergy
saying things like
“This the lentiest Lent ever” or
“This is the longest Lent I’ve ever had.
This time of pandemic,
of isolation,
of loneliness,
is an excellent time for us to reflect
on how our lives have been changed
by being joined to Jesus’ death
and how Jesus has known our sufferings and pain.
“Eli, Eli,
lema sabachthani?”
“My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?”
A pandemic rages,
the death toll climbs,
and we can’t see one another
or hug our grandchildren
or best friends.
Our God, our God,
why have you forsaken us?
Even after this is over,
having come through a pandemic,
our lives will be
forever changed.

Gathering together to watch on YouTube,
meeting on Zoom to check-in,
hearing of Jesus’ giving up his breath
it’s a funny day.
We don’t know when this will be over.
We don’t know when we’ll get to hug,
or when we can be close enough
to pour water for a baptism.
There’s a lot we don’t know.
We know from where our hope comes, though.
We’ll hear about it next week,
but even today we get a preview:
“Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice
and breathed his last…
The earth shook,
and the rocks were split.
The tombs also were opened,
and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep
were raised.
After his resurrection
they came out of the tombs
and entered the holy city
and appeared to many.”
In our Lord choosing to give up his last breath,
feeling abandoned by God,
having been betrayed by one of his best friends,
the world has been
forever changed.

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