Palm Sunday Sermon, April 9, 2017
audio without the beautiful congregational singing:
“Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they crucified my Lord? O-o-o-o sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
Tremble. Tremble. Tremble. What did the authors of this spiritual, the African-American slaves of the 19th century; what did they mean by this one word forever imprinted on our souls? Were they trembling out of fear for their lives? Or trembling out of gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice? Were they trembling in anger, witnessing their friend nailed to the tree? Or trembling out of joy for feeling the expansive, encompassing love God has for both you and me? My friends, I want to know: why were they trembling? For to me this one word holds so much weight. This one word represents the heaviness of Holy Week. This one word connects our own human narrative to the Gospel narrative.
Our Sacred Scriptures are saturated with “trembling.” Throughout the Bible we hear the word again and again. Like Hosea 10:11: “They will walk after the LORD, he will roar like a lion; indeed He will roar and His [children] will come trembling from the west.” Or perhaps Psalm 99: “The LORD reigns, let the peoples tremble; [God] is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake!” Or Philippians 2:12 “So then my beloved… work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
There are references to trembling throughout the Bible, and our Holy Week narrative is no exception. We will hear the Greek word σείω three times this week. Yet our current English translation may make it less than obvious. At the beginning of our procession this morning—and at the end of our Gospel reading from Matthew—we heard the verse: “When [Jesus] entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil.” Then in the passion narrative we will hear today—and echoed back again on Good Friday: “At that moment [when Jesus died] the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.” And then again in one week’s time on Easter morning: “For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.” The city was in turmoil…. The earth shook…. The guards shook…. The Greek word σείω, found in all of these phrases, can actually be translated as “trembled.” The city, the people of Jerusalem “trembled.” The earth on that Good Friday “trembled.” The guards at the tomb of Jesus “trembled.”
But friends, is all of this trembling really a bad thing? Could it be both positive and negative? Could it represent both fear and joy? Could it encompass both shouts of “Hosanna,” and cries of “crucify him?!” I mean yes, let’s be real, trembling, physical trembling can be rather uncomfortable—sweat beading, heart racing, body quivering. But aren’t these the same physical responses those we produce as we are falling in love?
We all know first hand that trembling has some pretty bitter moments, but could there be a sweet side to the sound as well? Just hearing this word I flashback to times of trembling throughout my life. The time when I shook in fear in my family’s storm cellar as the tornado sirens wailed and the winds howled. Or the time when I watched Veronica’s granddaughter Rose bounce up and down on the toes of her newly shined shoes, overcome with excitement for the hunt to find the most glorious Easter eggs. Or the time when side splitting laughter seized my soul. When in slapstick comedy fashion (for the third time this past Monday) I face planted in the snow while skiing down the slushy slopes.
Trembling could be anxiety, that moment your legs shake uncontrollably in your chair as you wait for your final exam to be handed out. But trembling could be anticipation, that moment when you quake as you walk across that stage receiving a piece of paper that represents four years of hard work. Trembling could be distress, that moment when you heave with tears and sighing as you process the news that your partner of forty plus years has been diagnosed with a debilitating disease. But trembling could be sheer surprise, that moment when your heart flutters and you become weak in your knees as the love of your life gets down on one knee and asks you one simple question. Trembling could be anger, when your body shudders upon watching the violence of chemical warfare done to the suffering people of Syria. But trembling could be joy upon seeing the hundred of thousands of people across this world, marching together this past January, mobilizing so that those in power will know we support the dignity of every human being.
My friends, trembling is sheer sensory overload. It is when we fully give into the moment; when the emotion physically overtakes us; when we are totally present with the scene unfolding before our eyes. And yes—as I am sure we all have experienced, and to which our Scriptures can attest—trembling can be both bitter and sweet. And this week, this holiest of Holy weeks, you are invited to experience the sensory overload along with Christ’s closest followers; to fully give into the moment; to allow all of the emotions, all of the highs and lows of this week, to overcome you.
We are invited to join with the children of Judea, and flutter in nervous excitement as we crane our necks to see over the crowd while Jesus enters the streets of Jerusalem. We are invited to join with James and John while they reel in rage as they drag our rabbi, our teacher away from the Garden of Gethsemane. We are invited to join with Mary Magdalene and quiver in joyous anticipation as we prepare and share the Passover meal together with those we love. We are invited to join Peter, and shiver with cold and fear as we await in the early hours of the morning, the sentencing of our friend. We are invited to tremble in agony as they crucify our Lord. We are invited to tremble with disbelief as that man—who is more than a man—appears before the tomb in seven days time. We are invited to let every emotion of these last steps of Christ wash over us and overtake use; to feel the weight of this week and tremble, tremble, tremble.
This Holy Week we are invited to tremble in awe of a God who would do anything for us, even to the point of death on a cross.