I love musicals. All musicals begin with what they call the “overture”. This musical number is a compilation of all the songs in the number put together in such a way that a person gets the idea that there is something big yet to happen. The definition of “overture” is “an introduction to something more substantial.”
Well, I am here to tell you that musicals have nothing on the church when it comes to introducing something more substantial. We don’t call it an “overture” . . . we call it the “prelude.” When I looked up the definitions for both words they had the exact same explanations . . . “an introduction to something more substantial.”
Palm Sunday serves as our “introduction to something more substantial” . . . serves as our “overture” . . . our “prelude”.
Palm Sunday marks our entrance into Holy Week. Due to the fact that all of the events that happen from the start of Holy Week—kicking off with Palm Sunday and ending with the darkness of Good Friday, none of us enters into this “prelude” without knowing the story. In fact, we have perfect 20/20 hindsight. We have heard the story over and over again each year . . . the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the Passover celebration, the city teeming with fellow sojourners from all over the known world, the sharing of the last meal, the prayer in the garden, the arrest, trial, and finally the crucifixion. We know the story and we know it well. And, Palm Sunday serves as the “prelude” of what is yet to come.
The question is: What exactly is it that is coming?
What is the big deal?
Well, the “big deal” is that there is a “new covenant” between humans as individuals and God . . . a new relationship is formed . . . fresh beginnings happen . . . new life is experienced . . . and, there is hope. That is the “substantial thing” that the Prelude is pointing to. And, that “substantial thing” comes through the witness of Jesus . . . his life, his words, and his actions.
Now, I might be a little too simplistic in my understanding of all that takes place prior to the resurrection that we will celebrate next Sunday, but I cannot embrace the idea that it is the blood of Good Friday that establishes this new covenant. I believe that it is the whole movement of Jesus’ witness . . . of his life . . . that shows us the way to this new covenant between us and God. It is not by his blood that we are so-called “save”, but by his willingness to give himself over to God completely. The quote goes: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
Most of us humans are pretty concrete thinkers . . . we see things literally. It is not Jesus’ death upon the cross that creates the act of atonement, but the willingness to completely give himself over to the will of God. As humans we probably would not have gotten “it” had God embraced Jesus’ willingness to die and pulled an Abraham and Isaac . . . with God proclaiming, “Just kidding—you don’t have to die.” No, we would have quickly forgotten . . . it took a concrete example. But, it is not the death that gives to us new life, it was Jesus’ willingness . . . willingness to completely give himself over to God and God’s will.
As the followers of Jesus we are called to do the same thing . . . we are called to give ourselves over to God and God’s will completely. If we do we will have new life. Jesus has shown us the way by the way that he lived his life . . . it was a radical way to live life. To love God completely . . . to love ourselves . . . to love others. That is God’s will for establishing the new covenant and the kingdom.
Hard stuff. The season of Lent has proven that. It is not easy to give one’s self over to God completely. We struggle with this. Yet, we are not alone. Jesus struggled. There in the garden after the last meal, Jesus went to pray. Remember his prayer? It was a prayer of struggle . . . should he do God’s will? Should he go through with what he knew was about to happen? There in the garden he agonized over what he should do. In the end he chose to do God’s will. Jesus said: “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36) Jesus completely gave himself over to God and God’s will. The rest is, as we like to say, history.
Thus it is that we enter into the “substantial” part of the story this morning . . . we begin with the “prelude”. Palm Sunday is the “prelude” of something more substantial taking place. We enter into Holy Week and all that it represents and through our minds we replay not only what happens that week in Jerusalem, but also the whole life and times of Jesus. We see it all . . . the movement . . . the grace, the love . . . the willingness to embrace God completely by giving his life over to God. It is the summation of his witness . . . his life that shows us the way to this new covenant, this new life.
But, do not get derailed at the foot of the cross. Do not get caught staring at the broken body of Jesus upon the cross. Do not get wrapped up in the violence . . . the concrete example of one giving one’s life up to embrace a new form of life. It is not by the blood of the cross that we are saved, but it is by the willingness of Jesus to be nailed to the cross . . . the willingness of Jesus to let go of himself and be fully embraced by God. It is the love and grace of Jesus’ willingness that saves us . . . Unfortunately we need concrete examples to open our eyes. Like Jesus, we are called upon to completely give ourselves to God and God’s will . . . to enter into the new covenant . . . to embrace the new life that comes from being totally God’s children.
The “promise” is there. The prelude of Palm Sunday announces that it is coming. We enter into this exciting time and join with the countless generations before us . . . waving our palms . . . shouting, “Hosanna, hosanna to God in the highest”. Yes, we know the “promise” is there . . . it is in the life of Jesus and his willingness to give himself over completely to God and God’s will. Jesus calls us to do as he has done . . . not literally climb up on the cross, but to be willing to let go and allow God to fully embrace us in love and grace.
As I said earlier, I might have too simplistic of an understanding of what this “substantial thing” might be. Yet, I truly believe that it is love that trumps everything else when it comes to us and God . . . that is pretty substantial. Think about it as you enter into Holy Week. May we all discover that love and grace for ourselves. Amen.