Rediscovering the Drama of Palm Sunday

Rev. Mona F. Denton, Westworth United Church,Sunday, March 29, 2015

Psalm 118:19-29; Mark 11:1-11

We don’t have many processional hymns anymore. The Processional Hymn tends to be reserved for those Sundays when we are celebrating the high holy festivals of the church. At Westworth we usually have them at Christmas and Easter, though we occasionally process at special concerts or worship services during the year.

I have been thinking about how different this is from my earliest experiences of the Church when I processed every week, first as a member of the Junior Choir, with my little royal blue velvet skull cap carefully bobby pinned to my hair, with the matching gown flowing as I walked down the aisle singing the opening hymn, and then as a teenager and young adult in the Senior choir. I must have processed, (and recessed, too, for that matter), hundreds of times in those early years.

For me, this is a precious memory, because it reminds me of the feeling I had of being part of something so much bigger than myself. I sensed that I was part of an unfolding drama that would start when I walked down that aisle, and yet mysteriously, would also leave with me as I recessed down that sanctuary aisle to begin my week once again.

This tradition helped me to memorize the hymns of my childhood and youth. I found it hard to walk, sing and read the hymnal all at once, so I started to memorize the opening and closing hymns – words that stay with me still. To this day, I am inclined to memorize the hymns I love so that I can look up when I sing.

But more than the music has stayed with me from those years of journeying down the aisle; I fell in love with the drama of the Biblical Story. Somehow the stories of faith I read in the Bible came to life for me in a new way when I walked my way into them.

This is especially true for the stories of Jesus’ life, teaching and death. I soon learned that the Bible shows us that Jesus’ disciples entered into the story of Jesus by walking alongside him. They walked with Jesus down dusty roads and along seashores; they climbed hillsides and mountains, walking the road of faith with him.

I wonder if we haven’t become too sedentary in our expressions of faith. I don’t think it’s been intentional, but today we seem to spend more time sitting down and hearing the stories of Jesus, than we do living them and bringing them to life through our actions.

Jesus asked his disciples to walk with him as well as believe. He called them to a discipleship that was active, not passive. The story of Palm Sunday was no exception. He needed the companionship and help of his disciples for the drama to unfold as it should – they were essential characters in the events of Holy Week.

The disciples went into the village and found the colt for Jesus to ride, just as he had requested, Jesus gave them the words to say if someone asked them why they were taking the colt: “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” They accompanied Jesus and joined the crowds who were spreading their cloaks for Jesus to ride on. They were part of the crowd that ran before and behind him, waving palm branches and shouting.

Being Jesus’ disciple means being caught up in the unfolding plan of his life – that day, and today. Holy Week reminds us that following Jesus calls us into a dramatic journey of bringing to life the truth of God for others to witness.

It is hard to figure out how exactly to do this today, but I think we see glimpses of it when we risk actions that require us to walk into places that are as unfamiliar as that village where the disciples claimed a donkey, and claim for ourselves what we need for Jesus.

I see glimpses of this kind of bold action in the witness of our church through the work of refuge as it prepares to welcome three Syrian refugee families. Quite literally, people have stepped up to share this vision of compassionate, community, inter-faith witness. Our volunteers have had to walk boldly into unfamiliar situations. Together we have had to learn how best to re-enact the love of God as we reach out into the community. It may not be a Palm Sunday Parade, but people in our community have noticed that something is happening in this place.

If you have been a part of the Lenten Study, you will have witnessed a similar community response. Together we have walked into new levels of understanding and awareness with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters by taking deliberate steps to learn.

Jesus shared his ministry in community, but the members of that that community had to follow him on foot to keep up with where he was going and what he was all about.

Our mission is to be the hands and feet of Christ within Westworth and beyond. Being the hands is easy. We know how to use our hands in ministries of love and caring, and in support of justice-making and charity. But how are we called to use our feet as Christ would?

I believe we are called to let go of the comfortable pew and walk into the world with our messages of hope and redemption. We can no longer expect the world to walk through our doors out of curiosity alone. They need to see the power of faith brought to life where they are, in the places of their deepest need.

The same is true for our own congregation. The ministry of presence is what Jesus has to offer through us today, but we must get up and go, in order to offer it in person to the people and the places in our community that need it the most.

Palm Sunday also reminds us that we are part of a worldwide procession of faithful people who walk the road of service to Jesus Christ. Our discipleship is to be a continual re-enactment of the ministry of Jesus in our time and place. How we do this will depend on the individual gifts we have to offer.

As we begin today to witness the drama of the Holy Week story, each one of us is not only called to find our place in the story, but also to see how that story lives on through us today. We need to hear the echo of Jesus’ voice as he asked his disciples for what he needed to reach the fulfilment of his ministry – first a donkey and companionship, and later their prayers in the garden and, finally, their courage at the foot of the cross.

Where will your feet take you as you live out this journey with Jesus?