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Palm Sunday: All roads lead to the Paschal mystery of Christ dying and rising

Pastors discuss why Palm Sunday matters to the world — connecting Jesus’ time to our time

By Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — For some growing up, Palm Sunday was a celebration of Jesus entering Jerusalem as a triumphant king. But now, more and more congregations are choosing to celebrate Palm Sunday by including the passion narrative to emphasize that this triumphant moment takes his disciples, then and now, to the cross.

Presbyterian News Service talked with pastoral leaders across the country about this and why Palm Sunday matters today for both the church and the world.

The leaders’ comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Rev. Dr. Paul J. Huh, Parish Associate, Harvey Browne Memorial Presbyterian Church in Louisville

We have big celebrations of Palm and Easter the next two Sundays, like mountaintop experiences. But if we don’t experience the passion during the week between two joyful Sundays, we miss out on the walk through the valley completely. The dynamics of descending with the suffering Jesus on the cross during the week helps us to embody the rise and ascension of resurrection power.

Rev. Dr. David Batchelder, Pastor, West Plano Presbyterian Church in Plano, Texas

You had little Easter and then big Easter, hence the superficiality of discipleship, without the suffering. The critique of contemporary Christianity is that it is the Christianity of triumphalism.  Any Christianity that sides with the exercise of power, that marginalizes the weak, that looks at the needy as expendable, that is about protecting privilege and tied to various forms of supremacy, that’s all Christianity of triumphalism. There is no resurrection without death — and death involves suffering. What I try to do is open people up to how to live out the connections that we’ve just experienced (in the Palm/Passion Sunday liturgy) with what’s going on in the world. This is about sending the church out to take its place alongside those with whom Christ is already present in solidarity. It’s a willingness to suffer with others, to know that promise of new life comes as we give our lives away. Palm Sunday leads us to Easter, to the heart of the Paschal mystery, which is the mystery of Christ’s dying and rising.

Paul Huh, David Batchelder, Louise Westfall, Danilie Hilerio-Villanueva, Jacqui Lewis

Rev. Dr. Louise Westfall, Pastor, Central Presbyterian Church in Denver

I think it is absolutely essential in faith formation to encounter and engage with the totality of Jesus’ life — his teaching, his healing, his suffering and his death and resurrection. If you only celebrate Palm Sunday as a triumphal entry, then Easter on Sunday and leave out the other elements, your faith is insufficiently formed. More and more people feel like life is very difficult.  It is fraught with many dangers. I think we all kind of live in the shadow of the possibility of the deteriorating planet and the human responsibility for that. That’s why getting in touch with all suffering and reflecting thoughtfully on both personal and corporate action is so important.

Rev. Danilie C. Hilerio-Villanueva, Pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Rincón, Puerto Rico

Palm Sunday is a realization of Jesus Christ’s ministry and what the road to cross is going to look like. In Puerto Rico, living in the Caribbean, palms are part of us; they grow all over the island. If you are low-income, there’s humility in the image of using palms as a welcoming for a king. The palms help us see that Jesus is a king of the people, a reminder of who our Lord is and what he went through before going to the cross. It allows us to look to the hope we might experience at the end of the road. I think the message of the Lord is universal — that all of us, regardless of the situation in Puerto Rico now, we have different experiences; even people much more comfortable than us experience suffering. I hope that we would really embrace the meaning of Palm Sunday wherever that might be — in every church and community — and that we are set apart to serve and to live with one another.

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis [Ordained in PC(USA)], Senior Minister of Middle Collegiate Church in New York City

Palm Sunday really helps set up the tension between the kingdom of the world (or Rome) and the kingdom of God. There is a sense that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is actually a right to own his crucifixion — he knows that he is now in full solidarity with crucified ones everywhere, wherever they are. It is the biggest surrendering and renaming of power, this willingness to go the distance, even to the place where someone will kill you because of the love you stand up for. On one side of town come the horses and chariots; on the other side of town is Jesus, with humble people throwing the clothes down on the ground. We will talk about the connection between Jesus’ time and our time — between the moment of so-called “Roman peace” to our moment in time which I’m calling “the so-called ‘make America great again.’ ” The name of my homily is “A Whole New World.”

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