In place of palms

Entry to Jerusalem detail (2)A brief sermon for The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019.  The scripture readings are Luke 19:28-40, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 23:1-49.

Listen to the sermon HERE.

This year we read the Palm Gospel and the Passion from Saint Luke. But if you were listening carefully, you’ll notice that there was no mention of palms. In Luke’s version of the entry into Jerusalem, the people throw their coats and extra garments on the road. Matthew and Mark say the people spread garments and leafy branches on the road and it is John who specifies that they were palm branches.

Like the people of that holiday so long ago in Jerusalem, we wave our branches in excitement and we wave them in remembrance. We wave them in praise of the one who comes in the name of the Lord. But an early church father suggests we might do even more.

Andrew of Crete was an eighth century monk who is known especially for his hymns and sermons. He says a radical thing.  He says

It is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours. But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, with the whole Christ “for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ”—so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet.

At all of our services today, when we read the Passion, the words of Jesus are not read by me, by a special reader, or by someone with a baritone voice.  Instead, the words of Jesus, the part of Jesus is played by all the people.  All of us.  When we enter into the scriptures deeply, we are bound to identify with different characters and storylines, depending on where we are in our own journey.  We might identify with those who betrayed Jesus, or those who let him down. We may identify with those who simply stayed at a distance.
But the point of the Incarnation, which makes possible the Resurrection, is that God came to be like us so that we could become more like God.  And so, we are invited to follow Christ as closely as possible.

“It is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet.”

What Andrew of Crete is suggesting, I think, is that we do what we can to allow Christ to be ahead of us and to lead us forward. Andrew is suggesting that by lowering ourselves, Christ is raised within us– to grow in us, to allow his words to take shape and form in our lives, and to allow his work of life, death and resurrection to wash over us, overtake us, and even to overwhelm us.

The liturgies of Holy Week give us various opportunities to slow down, to set aside the calendar and the “to do” list. We can put on hold the endless list of “shoulds.” Instead, we are invited to worship. We are asked to watch, to wait, to pray, to adore, that we might claim the power of our baptism, that we have died with Christ, and that through him, we are raised to new life.

May we spread our lives before Christ that he may be raised in us and that we might be raised into the glory of God.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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