When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,Luke 19:29-40 (NRSV)
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Stories are so important to us as human beings, and even more so as faithful followers of Jesus. Just think of all of the stories of faith that have been handed down for generations and generations and the scriptures that have been read and shared for thousands of years. These stories are told to inspire us, to feed us, and to guide us on our own journeys through life. They are told to help us not just follow a set of rules but to search within our hearts and to take in the world around us as we learn and stretch and grow. They also help us see the hope and the possibility that lies around each and every corner.
Okay folks, let’s look at that first sermon box and think about the stories of Holy Week for just a minute. What emotions arise when you think of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday & Easter?
This week, as we journey through Holy Week, we will hear the most sacred stories of our faith. I urge you to take your time. Don’t hurry, and don’t worry about the details. But on the contrary, open your hearts and minds to feel the emotions, to listen for the shouts and the cheers, and to allow yourself to remember the Holy Week stories in your own way, remembering what they truly mean to you.
From the cheers of “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday to the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples and sharing the last supper with them on Maundy Thursday. There will be quiet times, as Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. We’ll hear the snoring of the disciples that couldn’t stay awake, and the promises they made but couldn’t keep. We’ll hear Jesus’ closest friends deny him and betray him, and we will watch as Jesus continues to love them (and us) anyway! There will be shouts of “Crucify him!” as Jesus is arrested and tried and convicted. We’ll hear Jesus’ agonizing last words from the cross. We’ll watch as the sadness and grief of his closest friends and family quickly turns to fear and trembling. But do not lose hope my friends, because the story does not end there! For the shouts of “Alleluia! He is Risen!” will be coming when we find that the tomb is empty on Easter morning. What a week of stories my friends! What a holy and sacred week!
Now the journey itself will not be easy, and some of the stories will be hard to tell and to hear, but in the week ahead, the stories that we hear will remind us of just who and whose we really are.
The interesting part about stories is that we all hear them within our own context. What that means is that, without even knowing it, we bring to the stories our own experiences and traditions. Many times, we remember our own memories from the past or pieces of songs we’ve heard or a movie or picture we’ve seen. We bring to the stories our own questions and our own opinions as far as what we believe in our hearts to be true. And because of our human nature, though we may all hear the same exact scripture read or story told, we will all process it differently as we make the stories our very own. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is perfectly normal.
Let’s take today’s story of Palm Sunday as an example. Now the word “gospel” means “Good News.” And the story of Palm Sunday is told in all four of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Now if each of the gospels tells of the life of Jesus, why do we need all four? Well, because each of the gospel writers tells the story of Jesus’ life in their own way. The first gospel that was written, the gospel of Mark, was not recorded until forty years after Jesus’ death, and John–the final gospel–wouldn’t be written for another twenty or thirty years after that.
Before the gospels were written down, the stories were handed from person to person and community to community via oral tradition, meaning people told the stories to one another. So the details were not as important as the broad brush strokes and the essence of the stories.
Now some of the writers focus on the political aspects, and the relationships between the Jews, the Gentiles, and the Romans that were happening in the moment while others look at the story in light of what prophets foretold in the Old Testament. So I wonder, when you think of the story of Palm Sunday, what are the things that come to mind first?
Let’s take a minute with that second sermon box to think about what we think of when we think of Palm Sunday.
Most of us immediately think of waving palms because not only have we heard that before, but most churches make that part of their tradition. But did you know in the gospel of Luke, there is not a single mention of palms? Luke simply tells of people tossing their cloaks on the ground, which is reminiscent of a story in the Old Testament, from 2 Kings that spoke of a crowd honoring their king by tossing their cloaks on the ground in front of him. And Matthew and Mark speak of cutting branches from trees. But only John describes them as palms. And yet, “Palm Sunday” is how this day has been known for generations.
But don’t forget, the details of the story are not what matters. It’s the essence of the story and what it means to us as people of faith that matters.
Others, when thinking of Palm Sunday, may think of the donkey that Jesus rode on, or the chaos in the crowd. And of course, we all remember that word that is synonymous with Palm Sunday, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!”
Now those are pieces that come straight from the story, but you might have other personal connections to the story. Did your mom use to put her palms in a special place at home? Were there family traditions around Palm Sunday? Did you sing special songs at church? Or were you ever in a Palm Sunday parade as a kid?
In the back of your mind, those are all a part of your telling of the story. Each time you hear the scripture read, you add in those experiences to make your story complete even though you might not realize it. And there is nothing wrong with that. It’s perfectly normal. I think it’s exciting that we each have our own stories of faith. It’s what makes the journey personal and meaningful and real.
Friends, in the next week, as you hear the stories of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and as we gather here to celebrate the good news on Easter Sunday, I hope that you’ll pay attention not only to the story that scripture tells us but to the sacred story that has become your own.
Now if stories of Holy Week are brand new to you, if you are new to the faith and hearing them for the first time, or haven’t heard them since you were a small child, then don’t be afraid! Just open your heart and your mind and listen, not only to the words but to the essence, to the mystery, and to the way that the stories touch your life.
Friends, when it comes to our faith, there are a lot of things that we can’t prove, and sometimes we can’t even begin to explain them. But they are things that we know in our hearts to be true. The good news is that it’s not about the facts and the figures and the details. Because when we talk about things that are sacred and holy, what makes them that way is the unknown and our inability to prove or explain them. You see, they contain a mystery that in our unknowing, allows us to open ourselves to the endless possibilities that they hold.
Now, it’s not always easy because we need to let go of our control, we need to not worry about having all the answers, and we need to allow ourselves to be, feel, and experience the things we can’t explain. Because when we do that, we are blessed, and we get a glimpse of the divine.
Friends, my hope and my prayer for all of you is that you won’t jump from the shouts of “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday to the cheers of “Alleluia!” on Easter. But that that you will allow yourself to experience the sacredness of Holy week. Because it is only then, that you can begin to get a glimpse of the gospel stories and truly understand the Good News.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen.