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We praise you, O God,
for your redemption of the world.
Today, Jesus entered the Holy City of Jerusalem in triumph,
loudly proclaiming the kingdom of justice and peace,
as he was proclaimed Messiah and king
by those who spread garments and branches along the way.
Let us also raise our voices in victory,
that the hungry will be fed,
the naked clothed,
those who are silenced will cry out,
and all people may enter through the gates of holiness.
As this week continues, may we set down our palm branches,
and follow carrying a cross,
that, by dying and rising with Christ,
we too may enter into your kingdom.
Through him who reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
Of all the worship services that happen this time of year—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter—this is actually the one I think I’m missing the most. Palm Sunday is a great theatre moment, full of pageantry; you get to tell the people to shout in church and wave palm leaves, I like all of the songs, and ultimately, what I love about Palm Sunday is Jesus, hero of the people, making a scene in front of the uptight priests and Roman soldiers.
Only a week later, and those same crowds will be demanding that Pilate crucify him, which shows how quickly things can change in the course of a week.
But what I want to talk about right now is the moment when the Pharisees, probably fearing the arrival of Roman soldiers and the brutal crackdown on demonstrations and protests that come with it, ask Jesus to tell his disciples to stop. Stop singing. Stop praising God. Stop gathering.
We’ve been told to stop, and we have. For good reason, but the Pharisees also had good reason to be afraid. The Romans would violently supress any movement they thought was dissident, and Jesus’ movement was dissident.
We’re told to stop gathering, singing, and praising God for our health, for our own good. And so we have.
But what Jesus says next, I think is important for us to hear also; “Even if they were silent, the stones would shout out.”
For me, one of the big challenges of faith is understanding that I can’t do everything. I see us and God as being in a big partnership to make a better world. We have our part to play, and as faithful disciples of Jesus, that includes gathering as community, singing together, praying together, and then going out to love others. You know, the things churches do.
And now we can’t do any of that. We gather online, but we can’t shake each other’s’ hands or hug one another, we don’t see each other smile when we say hello; we don’t sing together and hear our voices blend. We don’t feed others with our weekly soup and a smile, we don’t bring people from different walks of life together in one place. All of the things that I think make this church great and wonderful, we aren’t doing right now. For me, I can’t speak with you except for over the phone or internet to hear how you’re doing; I can’t give you a piece of bread and tell you that it is the body of Christ, even if you really need Christ right now. It feels like, even though I have more work than ever to do right now, I can’t do my job.
To me, it feels like I’m letting down God by not being able to do my part. And I’m definitely one of those people who always feels like they’re not doing enough, so that only makes it worse. I want to be there in the parade; at the forefront, not afraid to do the things God asks of me, things that need to be done, to pay the cost of discipleship. So the hard part for me is the trust that even if I was silent, the stones will still shout out. That it’s okay to let go and let God. Some things aren’t under my control, and I have to trust God to fill in the rest.
That’s true every day, but especially now. We didn’t make a pandemic happen and we can’t make it suddenly stop; we only do what we’re doing to help it slow down. Right now, God doesn’t need us to sing and to gather, God needs us to stay home and be safe so that others are safe and the healthcare system isn’t overloaded. Sing at home, and trust God to sing with you. Pray for others, and trust God to be with them as you pray. God doesn’t need us to put on a community meal right now; God needs us to help others in new ways that keep us all safe, and trust God to help us find those new ways.
Most importantly, I think we have to trust God to keep us still in community. We’re limited by our human bodies and experiences, but the Holy Spirit is not. She keeps us together as children of God whether we’re able to gather or not. This is something I’ve always felt for those who, for whatever reason, can’t find a place in the church. Now it’s true for all of us. We have to trust God that her love for us does not depend on going to church every week, does not depend on singing the songs or coming forward for communion or putting money into the offering plate.
To me, the most important message of Holy Week; of the crucifixion on Good Friday and the resurrection on Easter Sunday, is that God is always with us. Even death cannot separate us from him, because in three days he just rises again. Faith—which as I’ve said is the living that we do, not the beliefs that we think—is more important than ever right now. Faithful living is being in isolation in body, but being in community in spirit. Faith means listening for the rocks that are singing all around us.
So I encourage you to reach out, and stay in touch with one another. Continue to love one another as Jesus has loved us. Let’s continue to be with each other in community despite the barriers. In a funny way, what I’ve experienced is that this is bringing us closer together than ever. Don’t forget those who may be left aside—people who were already isolated—and reach out to them as well. Where two or three are gathered, says Jesus, I am there; and he doesn’t say it has to be physically gathered.
The stones will shout, and we will once again be able to raise our voices. Amen.