The Rev’d Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday
April 14, 2019
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you travel two miles outside the old city of Jerusalem, you will find yourself in the hills of the Mount of Olives. Standing in its ridges, if you but slightly look west, your eyes would gaze on the holy city of David. Jerusalem’s horizon from the Mount of Olives is nothing short of spectacular. It is simply beautiful. For ancient and modern residents and pilgrims, the prospect of Jerusalem holds an important and incomparable role in our Christian faith and history.
Today, the Western Church once again enters into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. To follow in the way of Jesus. To follow in the way of the cross.
Two thousand years ago, crowds welcomed Jesus as they did King Jehu and kings of old by laying down their cloaks on the road. However, the rule of Jesus of Nazareth takes a radical turn. While Jesus enters Jerusalem with the crowds shouting: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!"
This joyous proclamation is shortly swallowed up by a different cry: Crucify him! Crucify him!
The glory of Jesus’ entrance in Jerusalem, and his proclamation as blessed and king, is taken over by his arrest, interrogation, and crucifixion. This is the story we remember on this day. This is the story we contemplate and embody in our Holy Week liturgies.
Why do we recall the darkest and most painful moments of the life of Jesus?
Simply put, to remember and never forget.
To remember and never forget the tragedy of the cross. To remember and never forget the violent and brutal acts endured by our Lord, acts that are still endured by individuals in our day. To remember and never forget that amidst his passion, Jesus remains faithful to his vision for the world, even if the world tries to destroy. To remember and never forget the world’s salvation: the invitation for all of creation to be made whole through the power of God in Jesus Christ. To remember and never forget the greatness of the Resurrection – that God through and in the midst of death is able to bring forth life. Life that no human hand can take away, life that shall have no end.
The Church invites us to follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, to remember and never forget.
So what will be your response? How will you follow Jesus on the road?
Will you join in the sacred ritual of foot washing? Will you stay up if just for an hour and keep watch on our Lord’s Body? Will you venerate and kiss the wood of the cross? Will you come to the tomb and in the midst of death light the new fire?
What will you remember and never forget this Holy Week?
I know I have thrown many questions at you. Please know that this is not an interrogation of how you will spend your Holy Week, by no means, rather an invitation for you to bring forth your full self – your broken and beautiful self, that which needs healing and transformation. The road that ultimately leads to the beauty that radiates on Easter Day, the beauty of life.
But before we can enter the third day, the day of Resurrection, and before we can enter into the liturgies of Holy Week, let us for a moment place ourselves on the Mount of Olives. Picture yourself as a disciple on that mount. Proclaiming in a loud cry the kingship of Jesus as he is mounted on a colt. Not knowing at exactly what is about to take place in the days to come, but knowing that something is different this time. That the life of Jesus, our teacher and friend, will never be the same, and therefore, our own lives will never be the same.
In the eighth century, Saint Andrew of Crete, Bishop and theologian, in a Palm Sunday sermon called his flock to the mount with these words:
Let us go together to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives. Today he returns from Bethany and proceeds of his own free will toward his holy and blessed passion, to consummate the mystery of our salvation.
He who came down from heaven to raise us from the depths of sin, to raise us with himself, we are told in Scripture, above every sovereignty, authority and power, and every other name that can be named, now comes of his own free will to make his journey to Jerusalem.
He comes without pomp or ostentation. As the psalmist says: "He will not dispute or raise his voice to make it heard in the streets. He will be meek and humble, and he will make his entry in simplicity."
Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate those who met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish. Then we shall be able to receive the Word at his coming, and God, whom no limits can contain, will be within us.
In his humility Christ entered the dark regions of our fallen world and he is glad that he became so humble for our sake, glad that he came and lived among us and shared in our nature in order to raise us up again to himself. And even though we are told that he has now ascended above the highest heavens – the proof, surely, of his power and godhead – his love for man will never rest until he has raised our earthbound nature from glory to glory, and made it one with his own in heaven.
So let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches. Amen.