Pastoral Message

April 5, 2020
Palm Sunday

From the Rev. Dr. Brenda M. Pelc-Faszcza, Pastor

And audio version of this message is posted on the church website,
https://www.cantoncenterchurch.org/music/recordings/sermons.html
It contains previously recorded Palm Sunday music by our church choir.

The story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem for the last week of his life, what Christians celebrate as Palm Sunday, can be found in all four gospels,
in differing detail. Choose one or more for your own reading.

Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19.


Reflections on Holy Week

This Palm Sunday,
this beginning to Holy Week,
is not like any other I’ve ever experienced –
nor you, I imagine.
Instead of being gathered,
we are scattered, separated.
Instead of being dressed for church,
we are… maybe in our pajamas?
Instead of having literal palms to wave,
we’ll have to imagine them.
Instead of singing and hearing, live,
the stirring music of this day,
we’ll have to hear it online.
Or, in the memory chambers of our minds.
Everything right now keeps shouting at us
this is not normal, this is not normal.

But here’s another way in which this Palm Sunday
is different,
and there might be a gift in it.
Over all of my many years in the church,
I’ve noticed that while Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week,
and so asks us to head toward the cross
with solemnity, prayer and reflection,
in most years, most of us
have been reluctant to do that,
to give it that kind of emotional texture.
We like to make it “big” instead of solemn.
We don’t like being pulled into the deep and shadowed place,
into the story of death and loss, of suffering and grief –
at least not on Sunday:
won’t Thursday and Friday carry enough of that?
We like going from high point to high point,
without paying all that much attention, really,
to the part of the story that comes in between.
We prefer going right from “Hosannas” on one Sunday
to “Alleluias” the next,
as though that crucifixion in the middle
isn’t even really there…
and, okay, even though it is there,
it wasn’t the end, so,
do we really even have to think about it?
Who wants to think about it?
It’s just an interlude, right?

Well, friends, this year, we can’t do that.
We can’t avoid the Holy Week emotions
we so try to avoid –
loss, fear, grief --
because all we are thinking about right now
in this terrifying pandemic
is loss, fear, grief.
We have, by circumstances,
been pulled into a place
we try never to be –
where we can’t control what’s happening,
don’t know the outcome,
and probably feel sad, scared and worried in the meantime.
In other words,
we’ve been pulled into the place
where the Jesus community first was
when he was crucified – dejected --
before they came to understand, later on,
how his life would remain among them forever.
Dejected. 
Not sure what’s coming next.
Not yet seeing any life after the trauma.
Paralyzed by uncertainty.

And as hard as it might be to imagine right now,
if we are having any of those feelings
about our situation,
there may actually be a gift in them.
It may be the thing that helps us have
a deeper experience of Holy Week and all it means –
or, to put it another way,
a deeper experience of the God who accompanies us--
than we might otherwise have
when we go about everyday life undisrupted,
uninterrupted, untraumatized,
aiming to go from high point to high point.
Which we cannot do right now.
Right now, we are smack in the middle of something
unwelcome and frightening in its disruption,
and that puts us a whole lot closer to the first layer of experience
of the first Jesus community
than we usually allow ourselves to be,
even in Holy Week.

So as hard as it is, this is spiritually fertile ground,
a “teachable moment,”
because we learn things in the dark
that never occur to us in the bright light,
if we’ll listen to them,
pay attention to what they show us,
let them be one of the voices of God.
Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book
Learning to Walk in the Dark,
says this, about any experience we might characterize as “darkness:”

              When we can no longer see the path we are on,
              when we can no longer read the maps we have brought with us
              or sense anything in the dark that might tell us where we are,
              then and only then are we vulnerable to God’s protection.
              This remains true even when we cannot discern God’s presence.
              The only thing the dark night requires of us
              is to remain conscious.
              If we can stay with the moment in which God seems most absent,
              the night will do the rest.

So let’s use this time and experience as good spiritual ground.
In the days of this Holy Week and beyond,
let’s think about what it means to stay conscious
of what is holy,
to find a solidarity
forged from vulnerability,
and remember how strong that is.
Let’s think about where God is in our vulnerability…
how we experience God’s love and grace
when we are feeling most in the dark
most scared or sad or isolated,
or sick ourselves,
or worried that somebody we love will get sick,
or worried that we’ll never recover from this.
Let’s think about where God is in any of those experiences
and remember how life-giving it is to keep contact
with our consciousness of the presence of God
in everything.
As Jesus did,
all the way through the week we remember as Holy.

Here’s are two beautiful anthems, sung by our choir
on Palm Sundays past.
The first is called “The Palms,” it’s upbeat,
the way we would open a Palm Sunday service.
The second is called “In Just Five Days” and it’s meditative,
looking ahead to Good Friday,
the way we would close a Palm Sunday service.

Let’s hear them, and then we’ll pray.


“The Palms”


“In Just Five Days”

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Prayer for Palm Sunday


God of all days and all journeys,
through dark and light,
through sorrow and joy,
through fear and hope,
at the start of this Holy Week
may we remember that its story
is a story of love,
the self-giving love of Christ,
reflecting the love of your own heart for this world.
As we mark this story again,
may it teach us again what it means to live lives of faith and courage
in a world that can be both so beautiful and so terrible.
May it teach us again the ways of following
the one who is crucified yet risen,
the one to came not be served but to serve,
and who calls us to follow with our lives
the ways of justice and mercy.

Hear the prayers that we all carry on this day…
for our own needs, for those close to us,
for the nation and the world:
We pray especially for all of those working so hard
to treat the ill and save lives during this time of pandemic:
the doctors, the nurses, the aides, the technicians,
those who clean hospital rooms and serve food,
that they will be themselves safe
and have what they need.
We pray for those who work in grocery stores and pharmacies,
those who are working delivering food
and in other services that the rest of us depend on,
that they will be safe and have what they need.
We pray for the wisdom and courage for our leaders
and for all citizens,
that we might be strong and brave for doing what is needed
of all of us right now.
And we pray for the most vulnerable among us,
especially those most susceptible to illness
and those least emotionally resilient to disruption.
We remember all particular persons or situations
each of us might be praying for specifically today…
always trusting your love, your care, and your presence
with all of us.

God of mercy,
may our experience of this Holy Week
lead us to a deeper experience of love –
your love for this creation
and the love you call us to live toward each other
and all others.

In Christ’s name and spirit we pray, Amen.