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Palm Sunday

The Rev. Margaret Dyer-Chamberlain

March 24, 2024



Good morning St. Aidan’s!

This year, throughout Lent, we been talking about the theme of bridges – about physical bridges that bring people and landscapes together and about metaphorical bridges too – bridges of care and understanding and conversation that link us as human beings. When the worship committee began thinking about this theme, it arose from a collective sense that ---- given the divisions and conflicts of our world – perhaps it might be worth some prayer and intention to ponder how we bridge the things that drive us apart. To think about how we might find God in the bridges that form between us and about how, in fact, we make certain that we are connected with God and one another.

And so here we are on Palm Sunday – a day that is in itself a bit of a bridge – a day that moves us out of Lent and into Holy Week. A day on which we bless palms, process into the church together, and close in silence after we share the Passion Narrative. Palm Sunday brings us to a new place – after our Lenten journey, after we welcome Jesus to Jerusalem, we ready ourselves to remember Jesus’ last days, his crucifixion, and then - his resurrection.

It’s a lot.

Palm Sunday is one of those moments when Jesus is at his most authentic – and probably also his most subversive. He is being welcomed into Jerusalem by crowds of his followers who are spreading their cloaks and branches on the road to create a path for him. They are shouting “Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” They are excited and reverent. And Jesus subverts the image of how a savior is usually viewed – he is on a colt – not a huge horse or in a triumphant carriage – no, on a colt that someone found tied at a door. Jesus is a completely different kind of leader – he is humble and he meets the people where they are. He is one of them, one of us. Paul wrote about Jesus, that “…though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave….”

Jesus, in his teachings and by his example, reminds us over and over again about how to be humble followers of God. He reminds us that God’s mercy endures forever, to use the words of Isaiah. He reminds us that God helps us – giving us the tools to “sustain the weary with a word” and “listen” and “open our ears” and “stand up together” – to use just a few more of Isaiah’s observations.

And Jesus reminds us of all of this even though he knows that he will die. And we hear of his death today in the Passion narrative. It breaks our hearts to hear of Jesus’ death, but/and – we also know that he is always with us. We know how this story ends – Jesus will be resurrected, exalted, and given the name that is above every name. Jesus is watched over by God always. Just as we are.

I’m very conscious that there is a lot of noise in the world that might cause us to wonder about – and maybe even doubt - whether following the way of Jesus will get us where we need to go. The poet Jan Richardson writes about the blessing imbedded in the image of Jesus on Palm Sunday, and she also is a realist. She writes that “something will try to drown (this blessing) out.” She goes on to say, however, “This blessing” – this Palm Sunday blessing – “cannot be turned back, cannot be made to still its voice, cannot cease to sign its praise of the One who comes along the way.”

I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to watch the amazing Philadelphia 11 film, and I just can’t say enough good things about it. The reason that I think about it in the context of Palm Sunday has to do with the way in which the brave Philadelphia 11, the first women to be ordained priests in the Episcopal church, so authentically approached their calling to follow Jesus. Like Jesus, they turned the idea of religious leadership on its head and they did things their own way. If they could have ridden colts instead of horses to their ordination, they would have done it.

And the other thing this film raised up for me has to do with the theme of how we bridge across division - the theme that I started with this. When the Philadelphia 11 came up as female deacons who wanted to become priests, our Episcopal church was extremely divided about this idea. There was much conflict and division and angst. It’s kind of hard to imagine, today, what all the drama was about, but it was real.

The women in the film and in the panel discussion that followed had much wisdom to share about how to manage this kind of conflict and division and I’d like to mention just a few of the things they noted. I wrote down when I was watching the film so that I wouldn’t forget their insights.

• Carter Heyward talked about the importance of “Being in solidarity with each other when we don’t agree.”

• Our own Nedi Rivera talked about her conversation with her father about her ordination. Most of you know that Nedi’s father did not support the ordination of women. Nedi said that she and her dad pledged 3 things to one another in the midst of all of this. First, to stay connected and love each other; second, to agree to disagree, and be ok with that; and third, to stay in the Church.

• And finally, Panelist Kelly Brown Douglas said simply – “God will help you if you keep listening to God.”

Hearing these words and watching this film made me fall in love with our Episcopal Church all over again. And why do I say that? Because we are a church that tries really hard to stay in dialogue, to accept our diverse points of view, and to listen to one another. Do we always succeed? Absolutely not. Is there more that we need to push ourselves to do? Yes. Will we ever be “done”? No. But as our presiding bishop Michael Curry reminds us, we are in this church of ours to follow the way of Jesus. To follow the example and teachings of a humble savior on a colt.

I’d like to come back to our Lenten “bridge” theme, in closing. There is an incredible young adult book called The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson that I recently re-read. Your clergy are fond of young adult books, as we’ve shared before. If you haven’t read this book, I hope you will, and I don’t want to give away much of the plot so that you can fully enjoy it. It’s a story of 2 children who form a special friendship and spend time together in a magical place in the woods that is located across a stream. For reasons which again I don’t want to give away – let’s just say reasons related to challenges and sadnesses in life - the boy decides to build a bridge across the stream at the end of the book. In the afterward of the book, the author reflects about the character she so artfully created in this book, and about his bridge. “I allowed him to build the bridge,” she wrote, “because I dare to believe with the prophet Hosea that the very valley where evil and despair defeat us can become a gate of hope – if there is a bridge.”

And so, friends, I pray for us that we will take our Lenten thoughts about bridges – bridges of care and hope and love – into our Holy Week. I pray that we will find God in the bridges, and in the mercy and grace that they represent. And I pray that we keep, centered in our hearts and minds, the teachings and love of our humble savior, Jesus. Amen.


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