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The Congregational Church of West Medford is now doing business as Sanctuary UCC.

Palms, Passion and Progressives

…he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. –Luke 19:28b

iStock-palms2_01I find Palm Sunday one of the most challenging to negotiate as a pastor—and it is not because of the eco-palms or the hymnody.  The fact is most mainline church folk don’t show up to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday worship wherein we rehearse Jesus’ walk through the days leading up to his passion (suffering and death) and resurrection.  Now, we pastors are pretty clear that getting the most out of following Jesus to Jerusalem suggests that facing Good Friday is a prerequisite to celebrating the empty tomb on Easter Morning.  So in our inimitable low expectation fashion, we progressive Protestants try to mush together Palm Sunday worship with the remainder of Holy Week—to craft a Palm/Passion Sunday experience—and do it all in an hour.  The truth is it is nigh to impossible.  I have successfully negotiated the theological and liturgical contortions required to do it, and have done so brilliantly, but never in less than 90 minutes!  And, it has required weeks of planning and highly experiential worship.  As I write this reflection I am in my fourth full week of ministry with you, it is four days to Palm Sunday and my mantra in the midst of all this transition is KISS (keep it simple silly)!

A few years ago, I found myself resisting the Palm/Passion Sunday model and encouraging the congregation that I served to join in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday worship. I pray that you might find your way to one or both of these worship services this week.  I promise they will be experiential and deeply moving and will get you in touch with the passion of Christ in new and meaningful ways.  Nonetheless, we begin Holy Week today with eco-palms, shouts of Hosanna and an awareness of that horrible death that Jesus faces in just days.  This Holy Week moves so fast we can hardly take it all in and yet we must.  We must take in the last supper and the foot washing and the prayers in the garden and the denials and the betrayals and the crucifixion and the waiting.

At a table, on the mountain, in judgment hall, atop a hill called the Skull: Jesus’ passion unfolds as those in power abuse an innocent man.  With Jesus as our model, the story lends perspective for what it means to refuse to repay evil with evil, and choose instead to speak and act with gracious forbearance and unswerving trust in God’s purposes. But, my friends, the question posed in the passages for Palm/Passion Sunday are not simply what we make of Christ’s passion in the words and deeds that scripture records.  The more fundamental question for this week is: What does Christ’s passion make of us?

Our worshipful engagement with the stories of this Holy Week beckon us to follow Jesus into Jerusalem, to witness his passion and trust, that we in turn might be faithful witnesses who trust God in word and deed, in life and in death.  Beloved, I pray that you might truly experience Holy Week, whether you come to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday or not, such that Christ’s passion makes of you a witness!

Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade

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