Homily for Palm Sunday, Year A
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Richmond VA (Virtual Palm Sunday Worship)
A few years ago as part of my Faith from the Margins to the Web project, we engaged in a thought exercise called, “I Wonder…” After reading the Gospel text, we sat for a few minutes with the vivid images of Palm Sunday: the donkey, the crowd, people waving branches and spreading their cloaks on the ground, shouts of “Hosanna!” filling the air. I recorded that conversation and it went something like this:
- I wonder if Jesus knew that the disciples would obey him?
- I wonder what the people who were watching were thinking?
- I wonder what the disciples thought Jesus was going to do with the donkey?
- I wonder if the donkey thought, “Why does this man want me? Is it because no one has ever ridden on me? Is it because I’m pure of heart?
- I wonder what the rest of that donkey’s life was like?
- I wonder what happened after that day, all those palm branches and all of those crowds…what happened after that?
- I wonder if everyone in the crowd really knew who Jesus was, or were they just following along?
- I wonder what I would have done, if I really didn’t know Jesus as Lord, but this man Jesus came up to me, or paraded by me?
Sometimes we turn to our holy scriptures thinking we are supposed to find all the answers. But exercises like this remind me that the Holy Spirit is alive and moving in our questions and our wondering, too.
This week, I have found myself wondering how our physical distancing invites us to see this Palm Sunday story differently right now. How I would love to gather with that crowd to welcome Jesus in our midst! I would love to rush head-long into that scene and pick up the refrain, “Hosanna in the highest!” waving branches high above our heads. And, I would love to speak those words together with you just as we have said Sunday after Sunday, wrapped within our Eucharistic prayers. I wonder when we will be able to celebrate Holy Eucharist together again, and I wonder when I can embrace you all in what will inevitably be the longest passing of the peace we’ve ever experienced…and that is saying a LOT here at St. Mark’s! I wonder these things, and I long for these things. And I don’t have any easy answers.
But this week, I have felt the nearness of God’s presence in that wondering. I find myself filled with wonder and an awareness that the crowd gathered at the entry point to Jerusalem didn’t know what was to come, either. The donkey didn’t know the destiny of the one riding on its back. The disciples didn’t fully take in the message of how short the time was with the friend they loved. No one waving their branches knew what would follow as the tide turned from triumphal entry to betrayal, denial and walking the way of the cross. In the course of that week, everything would change day by day, and hour by hour. The crowds, the disciples, the animals and even Jesus had to walk the rest of the journey as it unfolded, step by step.
I think we all feel that scene and that reality differently this year. We know something very deeply about what it means for everything to change on a dime, and to move from being caught up in the midst of a joyous crowd to following a different, solitary road.
I invite our shared wonder on this Palm Sunday, as we enter into the journey of accompanying Jesus on a different road than the crowded one strewn with cloaks and branches. I wonder how this time of containment offers us an opportunity to experience transforming grace and to receive Jesus’ gift of love differently? This path we walk right now is a narrower path that asks us to confront our fears, that rends our hearts, that removes us from the way we have come to expect things to be. But I wonder what we are learning, and how we are seeing God in our midst in ways we never noticed before. I wonder at the joy I see each time we catch glimpses of one another in these little boxes and hear each other’s voices even when we crackle and falter from time to time. I wonder at the ways our common prayer unites us, in a profound way that we cannot take for granted. I wonder about how our very choice to refrain from beloved worship practices in person for the greater good of the body helps us better understand the ways that our sacramental worship has formed us to be the Body of Christ. In that metaphor, I wonder whether we have thought about our lives as the church dispersed throughout our communities serving as the defense system for the most vulnerable in our midst, acting collectively so that those most at risk can survive and thrive.
I wonder at our resilience, at the ways in which our love for one another takes the form of phone calls, and notes, and Zoom, and chats, and texts in ways we had overlooked before. We are realizing every day how powerful the love of community is, and that physical distance may challenge us, but it does not remove us from God or from each other. And in all these things I wonder: was it also like this for Jesus, his mind flooding with memories, people, moments of realization as he walked a road of soul-wrenching injustice for the greater good of the whole world. Jesus walked though that week with wonder and belief propelling him forward step-by-step in the assurance that death and sin…even the sin and injustice of the whole world…would be overcome and transformed by the unbounded love of God.
I wonder if this time offers us something new and unexpected in our spiritual journey as we walk together into Holy Week, seeing with new eyes God’s vision of divine mercy and grace.
This year, we understand something more about how much harder it is when the crowds disperse. But our wonder about how we will be church together is a gift through which our hearts have opened to the new movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, individually and as the Church in the world. The assurance of our faith tells us that God is with us, and the reassurance of our communication and even our technology reminds us this is indeed still a community emanating Christ’s real presence. This is a community that has seen and known Christ in our midst; that has been fed and nourished in body, mind, and spirit. This is a community that has fed and still feeds others. We are no longer in the crowd but we are not alone: the liberating and transformative nature of divine mercy and grace accompanies us with every step. Now, more than ever, we have the opportunity to understand our very nature as the Body of Christ in the world. In our prayers, God meets our fears, our hopes and our wonder and helps us to know more fully who…and whose…we really are.
The journey of Holy Week is filled with opportunities to wonder. So, I invite you to wonder as we walk together through this week. I invite you to walk the way of the cross virtually with our Stations of the Cross and leave each other electronic notes along the path. I invite you to join together for Holy Week prayer, including Wednesday Compline and the liturgies of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday through this video conference connection we’ve established. I invite you to reach out to someone you haven’t heard from in a while and remind them they are not alone. We have been prepared for this journey through the waters of our baptism and nourished at the table of the Lord; we are enfolded in the great grace of salvation, and the gift of knowledge that the cross was not the end, but in fact, was the very beginning. Our participation in this Holy Week is invited not so that we are inflicted with sorrow, but so that our pain can be borne by the One who loves us more than life itself. Even in the darkest days, we can be filled with wonder.
In the dark of unknowing, wonder is the first glimmer of resurrection.
May your Holy Week be filled with wonder.