The great festivals of the year mark our time on earth, our passage, our pilgrimage from birth to death. Where was I last Palm Sunday? Where will I be Palm Sunday 2015? We mark time with festivals, for time is limited, making it precious; numbered days are valuable days. Was I journeying closer to God or away from him?
This morning in church, as I gazed upon the purple-veiled altar and tabernacle, purple-shrouded candlesticks and crucifix rising above, I considered Palm Sunday, how Christ’s entry into the holy city of Jerusalem two thousand years ago was a climactic, crucial moment in man’s history. Riding a donkey through the welcoming crowds, the Son of God enters the City of Man. The people had heard of this Jesus of Nazareth, this possible messiah, and they waved palm branches. Palms were associated with kingship, but this king came on a humble beast of burden. Could he really be their king?
In our sanctuary this morning our king was covered in royal purple, penitential purple, hidden from sight. But the purple shrouds draped against the brick apse were somehow beautiful, framed by giant green palm branches on each side of the altar. The palms reached high, rising above the shrouds, framing the purple with their vivid green. All was the purple of death and the green of life; all was flaming candles, incense, and chanting. Death and life touched one another in that sanctuary, as we, God’s people, followers of the Christ, began the suffering Way of the Cross, a pilgrimage to Easter joy.
We stepped to the altar to receive our own blessed palms and formed a procession. We sang as we stepped around the nave, All glory laud and honor, to thee redeemer king, to whom the lips of children, made sweet hosannas ring… We waved our palms, and followed the draped crucifix raised high above us, the torchbearers, the clergy. We became the Jerusalem crowd. We became mankind receiving God among them. We became a moment in history replayed and replayed throughout the world, throughout time, solemnly and tearfully and with great thanksgiving.
As I walked with my brothers and sisters, my children and mothers and fathers – my parish family – I sensed I was walking all of the Palm Sundays of my life. There have been many, I am happy to say, perhaps over thirty processions that reenacted that day outside the gates of Jerusalem. And today I was able to add one more, weaving a tapestry of time in my soul, a fabric of purples and greens and flaming candles. It is a tapestry that will enshroud me at my own death, ensuring that that moment in time will usher me into eternity, that I will be clothed with white linen and golden brocade.
On these great festival days, time collapses as it is purified into these intense moments of meaning. Time deepens and changes as we walk through Holy Week, as we meet in the upper room and share a Passover meal like no other before, as we pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, and as we walk the suffering Way of the Cross that Our Lord walked. We follow this path year after year through all of the years of our lives. We follow it to the Hill of the Skull, Golgotha, where the Son of God finishes his great act, his passionate passion.
I am certain that these re-enactments, these humble pilgrim processions around the church nave, wed me to the Body of Christ, the Church, in a true and mysterious way. As I take each step, as I sing and wave my palm frond, I become part of the eternal intersecting time. With every Sunday, every Eucharist, I draw closer to that miracle that occurred not only two thousand years ago, but occurs each Sunday, and in every sacramental gathering of the Body of Christ.
Time stands still yet disappears as I enter the gates of Jerusalem, as I become one with the love of God.