Palm Sunday 2019

We lie in a big world and our generation has the technology to do some amazing things in that world. One thing that we routinely do is to talk to the future. Last evening, we spoke to our daughter in Japan and a friend in Australia. It was already Palm Sunday in both places when we were talking. In Japan, it was early and our daughter and son-in-law were just starting their day, getting ready to go out to attend some special events. In Australia, our friend had come home for lunch after the service in the small church where he is a member and was preparing to head out to worship with another congregation at their afternoon celebration. He was describing his young grandson wielding a 10’ palm branch in their small church, being careful not to hit another person with the big branch. It is early autumn in Australia and there are some large palm branches available for the celebration.

At our church today we’ll have palms that might be described as florist palms. They are hardly branches, but rather a stem with a few leaves, easy to carry, easy to lift over one’s head, easy to wave. And after church we’ll have a brunch and then head downtown for a community parade down Kansas City Street. We’ll walk a few blocks followed by a reading of the Gospel and the singing of a couple of songs in a park next to one of the downtown churches. Later I’ll attend a pot luck supper at the Well, an emerging spiritual community that meets in our church building.

There are a lot of different ways to celebrate Palm Sunday. Our Australian friend described to us the service in the Fijiian congregation he was heading for as “a half hour communion service followed by a couple of hours for dinner.”

Palm Sunday is an interesting holiday. After six weeks of lent, congregations are ready for some upbeat music and throwing off a bit of the somberness that has been a part of the season of prayer and preparation. For those of us who live in the cycles of the church year, Lent can be a time of calm and relative quiet, but for most people Sunday worship that is too somber is not appealing. Palm Sunday, with its pageantry, is fun. Children waving palm branches, the choir singing celebrate songs, the Gospel proclaiming a triumphal entry - it all seems upbeat.

In many congregations the liturgy of the palms is immediately followed by the liturgy of the passion. We used to combine the two services, but in recent years have moved the liturgy of the passion, where we read a lengthy Gospel report of the events of the last week of Jesus’ life, - the last supper, the arrest, trial, conviction and execution - to a separate service on Monday evening. Sunday is set aside as a day of celebration in anticipation of a week of confronting loss and grief.

Palm Sunday carries a lot of memories for me. My father raised donkeys and he tried to have a new colt for Palm Sunday celebrations. We did not use artificial insemination and therefore timing the birth of the colts was less than precise. One memorable year, the colt came late and was born on Easter morning. The colt, a Jenny, was named Hallelujah in honor of the day. She proved to be nearly constantly in trouble. One day she tried to cross a cattle guard, stewed through the grate and injured her leg. We got her out, doctored her wounds, which were mostly cuts and scrapes with no broken bones, luckily. When she grew up and became a mother, she was less attentive to her colts and they always needed extra attention. She quickly earned the nickname Lulu, which stuck and sometimes was said as a negative comment on her mental capacities.

When we had a cold on Palm Sunday it was taken to church. Most years it was kept outside of the church building. When we were lucky the weather was nice. Once or twice we attempted a procession up the church aisle with a donkey colt. I learned fairly early not to be a fan of taking farm animals inside. To this day I have no desire to have live animals as part of our church services. It can be a lot of work and in our family the boys usually got the cleanup duties.

It is hard to tell, from the study of the Bible, how important that entry into Jerusalem really was from the perspective of the wider community. Jesus had been anticipating his return to Jerusalem for quite some time and he occasionally made his disciples uncomfortable with his talk of Jerusalem and the trial he would face. Some of the more radical Zealots among his disciples must have interpreted the words of the prophets as a prediction that the return of the messiah to Jerusalem would result in political upheaval and an overthrow of the Roman government. Others might have feared raising the ire of the temple authorities. I would have been a time of mixed emotions for both Jesus and his followers. Luke reports that when asked to calm the crowd Jesus responded by saying that they could not be suppressed noting that even if the people were quiet the stones would shout.

It makes sense, then, that the day might bring forth mixed emotions from our congregations. Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter simply are not as big in the lives of contemporary congregations as was the case a while ago. The role of the church in their lives has shifted with the passing of generations. Spring break from school is a much bigger factor in the lives of the members of our church than the arrival of Palm Sunday.

Still the day is worthy of our attention. The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is a moment in the story of our faith that is worthy of our time. We will celebrate. We will wave our palms. And with those simple actions we will once again launch a week of worship and prayer and contemplation. Like Jesus first disciples, we may not change the world in a single day, but we are in this and God is with us for something much bigger than today.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!