Two Palm Sunday Homilies (B) ~ Rev. Jim Schmitmeyer and Susan McGurgan
Twice each year, on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, the reading of the gospel becomes a liturgical event in its own right. For Palm Sunday and Good Friday, the rubric states that "a brief homily may be given." It is a valid option to omit a homily. This decision should be made deliberately and preachers should carefully weigh the cost/benefit of preaching or not preaching on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. We omit the homily, not to shorten the liturgy, or because it is a busy time to prepare, but rather to experience the power of the reading more deeply and allow the liturgy to speak through structured and intentional silence. This option presumes that the liturgy is rich and evocative, the readers well-prepared, and the preacher confident in the power of the liturgy to preach. On the other hand, a carefully crafted, brief homily has the potential to offer needed perspective and invite listeners to enter the experience more deeply.
Here are two sample homilies for Palm Sunday. Please be sure to visit the page of Triduum Homilies found under the header, "More."
HOMILY I "Sometimes, God has a Different Plan"
The journey into Jerusalem began with waving palms
and adoring crowds shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!”
At that triumphant moment,
there was nothing the crowd would have denied him.
they would begrudge him.
they would have withheld.
It was all within his grasp.
Or so it seemed.
But the rowdy crowd
was as eager to “get”
as to give.
They were hungry—
hungry for whatever Jesus could give them.
Some were hungry for political status,
and waved their palms for a King
who would restore the Jewish state.
Some were starving for power,
and threw their cloaks before a Warrior
who would crush the Roman army.
Some were hungry for comfort,
and shouted for a Hero
who could fill their bellies and dry their tears.
The crowd was hungry
and it was all within their grasp…
or so it seemed.
But God had a different plan.
this anointed one,
rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed colt.
He wore homespun, not polished armor.
He spoke about sin and redemption,
not national sovereignty or imperial might.
He would be betrayed
Nailed to a cross
his broken and battered body
would be wrapped in borrowed linen
and laid in a borrowed tomb.
The jubilant crowd that lined the road to Jerusalem
knew they were seeing a “winner”,
but they completely misunderstood
God’s vision of success.
They didn’t realize
that Jesus had come to conquer
not just Rome,
but the world.
They didn’t understand
that Jesus came to the holy city,
not to deal death
or to sidestep death,
but to meet death head-on.
He would conquer the world
and death itself…
by dying. *
The crowds that ripped branches from trees
and screamed with excitement,
that their hunger would be eased
and their emptiness filled,
not by conquest
but by a broken body, poured out.
and through the stark paradox of an instrument of torture
transformed into a path toward new life.
No scripture study or theology class
can explain the cross completely.
No homily or lecture fully outlines its meaning.
Yet, all of us who follow Jesus
will eventually find ourselves
trying to stay awake
through our own dark nights in the Garden of Gethsemane--
nights of terror
nights of regret or pain that feel like they will never end.
All of us who follow Jesus
will eventually find ourselves
betrayed by someone we swore
would never leave our side.
All of us will --
at some point--
feel forsaken, broken, mocked, cast down in the dust.
All of us will walk along that dusty, lonely path
to our own Calvary,
wondering “Where are you, God? Why have you forsaken me?”
Our faith and love and discipleship
does not prevent this pain
or insulate us from grief.
it transforms them.
“whoever wishes to come after me
must deny themselves,
take up their cross and follow me.”
From a marketing standpoint,
this message is a disaster.
Just imagine how many followers Jesus might have
if he had avoided the cross—
If he said,
“Lay down your cross and follow me.”
“Ignore your burdens
and I will make them disappear.”
“I will not suffer, and if you believe in me,
you will never suffer, either.”
That’s a message designed to keep the palm branches waving!
As Barbara Brown Taylor says,**
Suffering can be the great killer of faith.
It can compress the human soul into a knot of bitter pain
and explode our lives into a thousand brittle pieces.
Suffering can be the way we discover the depth of our humanity and faith--
our capacity for love and beauty--
our ability to forgive--
our kinship with God and each other.
For the difference between these two options,
look at the cross.
The cross teaches us
that suffering can be redemptive,
that burdens can be shared,
that sins can be forgiven,
and that darkness can be dispelled and transformed
by the power of a loving God.
The cross dares us to believe
that life is more powerful than death
that love is more enduring than hate
that hope is stronger than despair.
that instrument of execution and pain
is a reminder that we live on borrowed grace
and borrowed time and borrowed strength;
that our views of “success” and “defeat”
might differ from God’s,
and that sometimes,
God has a different plan.
This week, we have come to the city gate,
palm branches waving,
agendas in hand,
wish lists ready. *
As we welcome the King into Jerusalem,
what are we hungering for?
© Susan Fleming McGurgan
*Byron L. Rohrig, Christian Century, March 9, 1988, p. 236.
**Barbara Brown Taylor, God in Pain: Teaching Sermons on Suffering, Abingdon Press, 1998
HOMILY II "The Cross at Groom"
Rev. Jim Schmitmeyer
There is a gigantic, metal cross along Interstate 40
just outside the small town of Groom, Texas.
If you look up information about the cross on the Internet,
you’ll learn that an average of 1,000 people visit the cross each day…
you’ll also learn that 9,000 other drivers pass on by.
If you have ever visited the cross at Groom,
you know that there are statues at the base of the Cross
depicting the Stations of the Cross.
One of the statues, the Ninth Station,
is an image of Christ fallen to the ground,
not on one knee, but with His face in the dirt,
His Body crushed beneath the weight of the cross.
Place yourself at that scene for just a moment
and imagine meditating on that scene
with the hum of interstate traffic behind you:
Eighteen-wheelers, cattle trucks.
Motor cycles and moving vans.
Drivers sipping coffee.
Fidgety children in the backseat.
State patrol cars.
Cars with drugs stashed into secret compartments.
Yes, thousands of vehicles passing by…
tourists, college students, farmers in pickups.
Today, Passion Sunday, you and I find ourselves at the end of a journey.
The journey called Lent.
We find ourselves, not on Interstate 40,
but standing inside a church listening the reading
of Christ’s Passion and Death.
Why are we here?
Why have we pulled off the highway of life
for a brief time to ponder a cruel torture and execution
from ancient times?
It is to recall the suffering of the Savior, yes.
But also to feel, within ourselves, the pain of His Cross
So that we become better conditioned
to feel and respond
to the pain of those around us.
Each day, one thousand drivers stop to pray
at the cross at Groom. Texas.
Nine thousand do not.
This Holy Week, do not by-pass the true Cross.
Do not hesitate to feel its weight pressing down on your back.
Be brave enough to stretch your out arms upon its beam.