A reflection the readings for Palm Sunday by The Rev. Camille Hegg
Palm Sunday is a spectacle and a range of actions and emotions. It goes from Jesus setting his face to Jerusalem and disciples having to decide to follow him and ‘die with him’ as the gospel from last week says. Emotions in that decision had to had been vast and many. Crowds were there waiting for him, with palms on the ground to honor him. How did they know he was coming? Now, we have Twittter and Facebook that can send instant messages to many people to expect and to gather at certain places.
Palm Sunday is a good story. It has drama, mystery, pathos. It goes from festival atmosphere to the confusing, angering, sad actions of human beings reacting to what they don’t understand, and the death of an innocent man. It is a strange story, too. All those events and emotions in just a few paragraphs rather than not an epic novel with chapters nor a history book with footnotes.
In one liturgical day emotions which we experience in our lives happen. What begins with Palm Sunday ends with Passion Sunday. In many churches there is no final processional hymn, but a procession in silence to symbolize the absolute outrage and sadness of what happened.
We find ourselves confronted with outrage and sadness on many occasions. Sometimes, for me, the only response to both of these emotions is silence. Sometimes what starts as a good day ends with some unforeseen event that is sad or outrageous or angering. We may want to shout, but I find silence a better friend than shouting.
It was a Sunday in 1985. The epistle that day was the Ephesians’ admonition to wives to submit to their husbands and so forth. In preparing my sermon I decided it was time to preach on this text. I used a true example of the mother of a grown daughter who came to talk to me. The husband of the daughter had put the daughter in the hospital with internal bleeding, bruises, a black eye, and a broken collar bone. The mother who came to me asked me to pray that the husband would quit beating her daughter. I asked her if she wanted her daughter to go back home with the husband and this mother said, “Oh yes, marriage is sacred. She has to stay with him. I just want him to quit hurting him.”
All of us reading this have stories like this. I decided it was my time to speak about this text. Wiithout going into the sermon much further, I will say that I raised questions for the congregation and said that this was a misunderstanding of the gospel of love. I felt that I had done a good job of preparing and delivering the sermon. I received a very loud applause. I was surprised and I will admit it felt good. That feeling stayed with me through the morning. When I walked into my house after church the hpone rang and it was my sister telling me that our father had died that morning of a massive coronary. I was silent. I finally said that I would be there soon.
This story is nowhere near the events of Passion/Palm Sunday. It came to me as an instance of a time when I myself went from that ‘festival’ of the palms and the procession, (feeling uplifted from my preparation and delivery of the sermon, the congregation’s response), to the “passion” of the sudden, unexpected and stunning sadness of learning of my father’s death. Over the years I have pondered my father’s sudden death, but never have I thought of it in this context. A Sunday like this week’s does have something to say to us about life’s changes and chances. It is remarkable to me that the church, lectionary, seasons, community can help us process our lives amidst the changes and chances of our lives.