Two Palm Sunday Homilies (B) ~ Rev. Jim Schmitmeyer and Susan McGurgan


Preaching Notes:

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.

Nothing

they would begrudge him.

Nothing

they would have withheld.

Power…

Riches…

A throne…

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.

You see,

this warrior,

this ruler,

this king,

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

Handed over

Denied

Condemned

Mocked

Nailed to a cross

Forsaken

And finally,

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,

didn’t understand

that their hunger would be eased

and their emptiness filled,

not by conquest

or power

or wealth,

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

or fear

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.

Instead,

it transforms them.


Jesus said,

“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.

Or

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.

The cross,

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.





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